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Death of a gladiator

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As the tributes pour in for former New England Patriots linebacker Tiana Baul “Junior” Seau, the questions are mounting about what was going on inside the head of the outwardly happy-go-lucky surfer-restaurateur-philanthropist that would cause him to put a gun to his chest and pull the trigger.

Unlike years past when the questions were whispered, the answers could now be found in a lab at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Seau’s apparent suicide is the latest on a growing list of retired athletes from some of the nation’s most brutal sports, and BU researchers are leading the investigation into the causes. The common thread among those who have committed suicide and whose brains have been studied at BU appears to be a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is being linked to repeated concussions that can lead to depression.

One problem is the only way to determine if an athlete has CTE is to examine the brain but the only time that can be done is post-mortem. There is some promising research on boxers who appear to be “punch drunk” showing that some signs of CTE are detectable by MRIs but that’s still in the early stages.

Many are noting the similarity between Seau’s death and that of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest and left a note that he wanted his brain studied at BU to see if there were signs of CTE. Researchers did find the tell-tale indicators in Duerson’s damaged brain.

It’s unclear if the 43-year-old Seau left a note or if he shot himself in the chest for the same reason as Duerson, but it’s certain that the Boston researchers will reach out to Seau’s family for permission to study his brain. Seau, one of the all-time great linebackers for the San Diego Chargers before joining the Patriots and a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame when he is eligible in three years, is the highest profile athlete to commit suicide as awareness becomes heightened of the consequences of repeated concussions.

But the names are beginning to become more familiar even with non-fans. The one name that may resonate most with sports fans and non-fans alike is Derek Boogaard, the longtime hockey enforcer whose skill on ice was more in his hands for fighting than his skates. The New York Times did an exhaustive three-part series on Boogaard’s life after his suicide and made his name far more recognizable in death than it was for any of his on-ice accomplishments.

With the rising concern, parents and sports officials are eyeing youth sports and looking for ways to reduce contact and, in turn, concussions that could have debilitating effects later in life. Just last week, the parents of a Duxbury hockey player sought to bring assault charges against a Scituate player for a brutal check that left the Duxbury boy flat on the ice and suffering months of headaches and light sensitivity from the resulting concussion. A magistrate dismissed the complaint.

The CTE research is now extending beyond the playing field and into the battlefield. With its increased focus on player safety – some would say belatedly – the NFL is designing helmets to reduce the number of concussions and sharing the technology with the Department of Defense to employ in combat helmets.

Seau’s death came the same day the NFL suspended four New Orleans Saints players for participating in a “bounty system” that was aimed at hurting opposing players in the course of the game.  Some are saying the league is overreacting, fearful of the pending suits from former players over lack of safeguards in the game. Maybe those critics should ask Seau’s family if it’s an overreaction.

                                                                                                                                            --JACK SULLIVAN



BEACON HILL

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Wollaston Yacht Club strike a deal requiring the club to pay $5,000-a-year in rent and start paying $32,000 in unpaid rent from the last six years, CommonWealth reports.

Were last Saturday’s Republican caucuses bad news for MItt Romney and the state GOP?  Political science professors Maurice Cunningham of UMass Boston Peter Ubertaccio of Stonehill College chew on that question in a new CommonWealth magazine Face to Face video conversation. The Phoenix’s David Bernstein calls the caucuses “an embarrassment of epic proportions for Mitt Romney.”

A new study finds that many of Gov. Deval Patrick’s policies have benefited black residents without alienating others. CommonWealth has the story, too.

The appointment of Patrick administration official Carl Stanley McGee as interim director of the state gambling commision has stirred up anger on the part of the family of a Florida boy who accused McGee of sexual assault in 2008.  Florida prosecutors decided not to pursue charges in the matter, but McGee settled a civil lawsuit with the family of the boy, who was 15 at the time of the alleged assault.

The Lowell Sun, in an editorial, says it is appalling that Massachusetts allows illegal immigrants the same rights to public housing as veterans, the elderly, and disabled.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua promotes his receptionist to a top public works post, boosting his salary from $39,000 to more than $60,000, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Pressure is mounting on Medford’s housing authority chief, Robert Covelle, to resign, with the city’s mayor joining all four members of the authority board in calling for Covelle to quit.

Tensions are rising in Foxborough between the chairman of the board of selectmen and the town manager over how a dispute was handled with the Kraft Group, owners of the New England Patriots and Gillette Stadium.

Boston may stagger nightclub closing times to combat violence following last call.

ELECTION 2012

Elizabeth Warren said she listed herself as Native American in national law school directories
with the hope of connecting with other “people like me.”

US Sen. Scott Brown calls for bipartisanship in Washington, and calls Elizabeth Warren an elitist, the AP reports (via Worcester Telegram). Leominster mayor Dean Mazzarella will endorse Brown today.

Marisa DeFranco, the North Shore immigration lawyer vying with Warren for the Democratic Senate nomination, appears to have enough nominating signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

New York magazine argues that Newt Gingrich’s presidential run was mostly an epic disaster that will end Gingrich, except for the fact that the former House speaker’s legacy -- anti-tax fundamentalism and ideological purity enforced through parliamentary politics -- remains fully intact.

The Democratic National Committee is struggling to raise funds for its convention in Charlotte. The party is shunning corporate cash, while unions are protesting North Carolina’s right-to-work regime.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Greater Boston profiles a student-run program at Northeastern University that provides money and guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The Republican salutes the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for its efforts to persuade Boston-area businesses to move to western areas of the state.

Parents in Marblehead object to letting Adam Sandler’s film crew use the high school football field for filming for a $125,000 fee, the Salem News reports.

EDUCATION

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School of Law has been granted provisional accreditation by the American Bar Association.

Negotiations between the New Bedford mayor’s office and the schools superintendent over her exit continue to drag on, making it difficult for her to be effective, say some city officials.

Harvard and MIT announce a new $60 million powerhouse partnership to offer free online courses. The Christian Science Monitor analyzes whether the online course initiative will help bring down college costs. CommonWealth looks at the rise of online learning in K-12 education in the current spring issue.

TRANSPORTATION

The Worcester Transit Authority shifts to Charlie Cards, NECN reports.

MassDOT backs up the Berkshire Scenic Railway in its dispute with Housatonic Railroad over whether scenic tourist trips should continue.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Westport voters approved a proposal to build a solar farm atop the closed town dump, potentially saving the community $100,000 a year in electric costs.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A former Plymouth County commissioner has agreed to pay a $7,500 fine to settle charges against him of rigging a bid for the county’s pest control contract.

The Securities Exchange Commission is charging a Milton broker with fraud for allegedly creating two bogus funds and using investors’ money for his personal use.

Police launch a gambling raid at an Italian social club in Lawrence, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Police say a Lynn man admits to killing his mother and grandmother and dumping their bodies in Saugus, the Daily Item reports.
 
New CORI laws go into effect this week and The Bay State Banner believes that those rules will help ex-offenders move into the workforce.

MEDIA

The Boston Globe kills yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream sells for $119 million at auction, CBS reports.

Dan Kennedy ponders what digital subscriptions really mean in the latest circulation numbers for newspapers, some of which show heady increases from the online subscribers that may or may not have an impact on advertising revenue.

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