The concussion debate along with player safety has been ever present in the lexicon of the NFL for several years now. And, as each passing month of the season pass, the topic seems pushed further and further under the microscope. The media gobbles up any opportunity to bring this debate to the shores of Rodger Goodell’s mighty castle. So then why was one of the first known men to be thrust into the spotlight about concussions and the NFL almost get no mention this week?
Ralph Wenzel was a former lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1966-1970 and then for the San Diego Chargers from ’72-’73. At the age of 52 in 1995, Wenzel began having significant memory lapses. By 2006 Wenzel was living in a home for dementia patients because he could no longer feed himself let alone communicate effectively with people. His wife and now widow, Dr. Eleanor Perfetto, argued on his behalf back in 2009 during a House Judiciary Committee on football head injuries. Perfetto stated at those hearings, ‘The N.F.L. must stop its denial of the relationship between brain trauma and brain disease.’ She also said that the NFL needed to become the ‘proactive leader that it should be.’ ’The denial is disrespectful of the players and the families that are suffering, and it endangers current players and children.’ Perfetto was one of the first to thrust the effect on the family of these athletes into the conversation.
Soon the league finally acknowledged that there could be a relationship between football related head injuries and the disintegration of health of players like Wenzel. Thus, the changes we see now taking place in the league. Boston University will test his brain tissue for chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a common procedure we will see as more and more athletes with trauma related injuries pass away.
So where would one find this news about a former Steeler who passed away from a serious condition that was more than likely caused by the sport he played? The PPG? The Trib? How about WTAE or WPXI? Or what about other national outlets like ESPN? Surely they would play the story. None. Zilch. Nada. In fact, the New York Times was the only major media outlet to carry the story within the day of his death. NBCSports.com did not post anything until Friday. His death was also reported in Steelers’ blogs (shamefully not ours) and some other obscure sports websites. So why did this man’s death not hit the Pittsburgh scene? Grant it, Wenzel was with the team for a short period of time and wasn’t the best lineman out there. But, is this man’s sad legacy to die as horrible a death as he did from the lack of words on a page telling the story that should be told?
After looking into this, I’m just completely shocked about the lack of news his death received. Only the blogs – from the true fans and readers – gave the man proper homage. Which just has me saying, WTF?