Niagara Gazette

November 15, 2013

HAMILTON: Purple Alzheimer's and black NFL players

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Thousands of retired professional National Football League players will receive a $765 million settlement for head injuries suffered during their years on the gridiron. Last month, current players were wearing the color pink to raise the level of awareness for breast cancer.

With what Business Insider reports as only 8 percent of the profits from the National Football League’s Pink Campaign going to the American Cancer Society for breast cancer research and cure, many critics wonder if the mega ‘nine-billion dollars in revenues’ NFL is actually doing more for the cure of cancer or more for their own bottom lines.

To me, it doesn’t matter. With a reported $4.5-million going to the cancer society, I am sure that it is much appreciated and will do some good. After all, the NFL is not a charity, and charity begins at home, not in the stadium. Here is no question that the awareness to breast cancer that pink-clad, 360-pound linemen brings to the public helps in other ways, too.

But of great irony to me is that with a very low, if any at all, breast cancer rate within their own professional players’ ranks, it makes me wonder why then has the NFL, and other sports teams where brain injuries are likely to occur, have done, in my humble opinion, little to raise the awareness of brain diseases.

I ask this because November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and the only NFL team of which I am aware that will be wearing the Alzheimer purple is the Minnesota Vikings; but they were going to bearing it anyway.

The web site Breastcancer.org reports that about 39,620 women in the U.S. were expected to die in 2013 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989.

Alz.org, the National Alzheimer’s Association’s web site, reports that data from the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that twice as many, 83,494, people died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2010, which was the last current year of statistics. Even then, it is largely believed that the disease is under reported.

Currently, the web site reports, an estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2013.

They also report that this is not just an old folks disease. Early onset Alzheimer’s impacts another 200,000 individuals under the age 65.

There’s more. More than 65 percent of NFL players are African-American. That is five times the proportion of African-Americans to whites in the United States. This is not to suggest that there is there a relationship between professional football and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease in African-Americans, but the Association believes that older African-Americans are probably about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias as older whites, and Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias as older whites.

Not being a statistician or a doctor, I am not suggesting that football causes Alzheimer’s -- there are a lot of other factors that are more closely associated with the disease. But with the statistics of African-American’s playing the sport, and the higher likelihood that their loved ones and likely many of their professional colleagues will come down with the disease, I wonder why there isn’t as much, if not more emphasis on raising the level of awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease in the NFL as there is about the high marketable breast cancer.

After all, what have we accomplished if we actually cure breast cancer, and I hope that we do, but to only have the survivors die with the tragic disease of memory and bodily function loss?

For the record, my mom died of cancer at a very early age, and my father was stricken with Alzheimer’s in his late 60s and died in his 70s. Many of my neighbors have likewise been stricken.

If the NFL won’t raise awareness, then we must do so.

You may learn more about the Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association by telephoning 626-0600, or accessing their website at www.alz.org/wny/ .

There is no multi-million dollar settlement for the millions of stressed out caregivers of retired people who are and will be diagnosed with this terrible disease.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.