In Lori Leachman’s family, football was life. Her father Lamar Leachman was a former player for the Calgary Stampeders and later a coach with the NFL, Canadian Football League, and now-defunct World Football League. He was a defensive line coach with the New York Giants when they won Super Bowl XXI in 1987. But later in his life, his family started to notice changes in his personality, including increased anger and forgetfulness.
After a decade of confusion and frustration, Leachman was eventually diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degeneration of the brain caused by repeated head trauma. Lori Leachman, an economics professor at Duke University, documents her family’s story in the book “The King of Halloween and Miss Firecracker Queen: A Daughter’s Tale of Family and Football” (Morgan James Publishing/2018). She speaks with host Frank Stasio about the research behind CTE; her concerns with the NFL’s approach to informed consent; and whether players can access funds from a massive NFL concussion settlement.
Leachman will read from her book at Barnes & Noble at New Hope Commons in Durham on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 12 p.m.; Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 6 p.m.; and at Barnes & Noble in Wilmington on Saturday, Mar. 2 at 2 p.m.
Lori Leachman on the NFL’s slow payout of CTE settlement money to retired players:
It is a minuscule fraction of people that have applied that have so far been allocated funds … It's been a really slow process. And the other thing I think is really important to note about that is that if you started playing professional football after 2011, you’re cut out of this settlement. And this is part of the reason that you're seeing young people that can walk away from the game: the guy that quit to go back to law school; the one that quit to get the PhD at MIT. Those are guys that have options. They're playing a couple of years, making money to fund their graduate ambitions, and then they're out.
On the social divide developing between those who do and don’t play football:
I think that will become bigger and bigger moving forward … For a lot of families what is in fact true is that football is their ticket for their kids’ college education. I was at Georgia Tech in September during football season and sold two books to parents of kids that play for Georgia Tech, and I asked them: How do you feel about that? And both parents said to me: It is my kid’s college education. He will not play professional ball, but he wouldn't be here if he didn’t play football. And so for a lot of families … [They] see [football] as their potential ramp to social mobility. And increasingly that's going to be the case in the future that those that don't have other options are going to opt into this, and everybody else is going to walk away from it.
On NFL’s responsibility to address CTE:
In my view, the NFL has got to own this more than the settlement and create a system that actually helps their personnel, their employees moving forward as they transition into a different life, as they age, etc. And if the NFL were to say: This matters to us. It's a continuing ongoing concern, colleges and universities would step up to that, and that would trickle down to the high schools. So I think you've got to set the ethic from the top.