Two life stories offer warnings about health dangers

Although experts may muster masses of data and point to reams of research, simple human stories sometimes persuade us best about dangers to our health. It’s tough not to ask why football holds such veneration as America’s favorite sport, for example, when one of its skilled players gets candid about his damaged post-professional life. And just maybe a mom’s tragic tale about her now-grown daughter’s circumscribed life might warn younger women about the real dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

Ex-pro opens up about football’s brutality

Who isn’t a Redskins fan in Washington? And, at this point, who among the football-obsessed hasn’t heard about the flap over a seemingly straight-forward news update about some football stars, including Antwaan Randle El, a one-time receiver for the Skins and the Pittsburgh Steelers. To the chagrin of those who jaw, endlessly, on sports talk shows, Randle El said he regrets playing football and wished he would have played baseball, instead. He said he was glad that a school football program that he was part of recently got canceled. Yes, the game opened lots of life’s doors and made him financially better off than he ever could have imagined. But the brutal pounding he took for years has affected his health and is starting to lessen his mental cognition, especially his memory, he said.

As I’ve written before, we need to look hard at how we protect young athletes from concussion and other head- and sports-related injuries. We need to get over glorifying the few players who make it into the pros without also considering how games can harm many young athletes.

But what occurred after Randle El said something plain and true about pro football shows we have far to go. He got zinged by the chattering sports crowd, so much so that he found himself back-tracking about his comments. That was a curious move. After all, he joined other NFL athletes in suing the league over player concussions. Further, his regrets first were aired in a project by a Pittsburgh publication, which tracked key Steelers from the Super Bowl X winning team; that piece was candid about the health toll that players suffered.

It hasn’t been much of a secret how pro football players end up wrecked and pain-wracked. Almost four decades have past since Peter Gent penned North Dallas Forty, a best-seller that then was turned into a fine movie about a fictional pro team modeled after the Dallas Cowboys. Nick Nolte, then a rising, young actor, nailed how the quarterback-protagonist of the movie abuses alcohol and drugs to deal with his unceasing pain from football injury. This is the model we want our kids to follow?

Mom tells of alcohol abuse, daughter’s fetal alcohol syndrome

If you know sexually active young people and you fret that they also drink far too much, then you might want to share a recent Washington Post piece about Kathy Mitchell, a sad but brave mom. She’s no saint. But Mitchell has shared her life story of alcohol abuse and how it resulted in her daughter Karli’s suffering with fetal alcohol syndrome in hopes of averting others’ tragedies.

Mitchell’s family ran a restaurant-night club. She started drinking early, getting so drunk, regularly, that she passed out often. She got so intoxicated that she fled the family wedding picture when her older sister married. Mitchell was 14. She got pregnant just after high school with Karli. Mitchell was drinking heavily, eating badly, smoking, and working long hours in bars and restaurants. Over time, after addiction to heroin, recovery, institutionalization, and other travails, Mitchell straightened out her life. She could not improve her daughter’s lot because she was afflicted with a syndrome identified in the early 1970s:

Karli is now 43 but is the developmental age of a first-grader. In the home she shares with her mother and stepfather, she collects dolls and purses, and pores over Hello Kitty coloring and sticker books. …In middle age, Karli has none of the awareness, self-determination and independence that most of us take for granted. She can’t recognize social cues, is easily led and manipulated, and can’t predict dangerous behaviors. She can only follow one rule at a time and doesn’t understand sequence. She can cross a street at a lighted crosswalk, but if the light is out, she’ll step in front of a car. She likes to wear pretty clothes, but she can’t remember to brush her teeth. To [Mitchell], Karli’s is simply a life snuffed of promise. ‘I adore my very sweet daughter,’ Kathy says. ‘She’s a forever innocent child. But not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself, ‘What if? What if alcohol hadn’t been a part of my life?’

The Post reports the findings of the American Association of Pediatricians that there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption by expectant moms. Meantime, the Post also provides data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 1 in 10 pregnant mothers say they drink while carrying a child.

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