Former NFL player looking to science for answers on concussion

Brian Duncan did it all in his early years: professional football, bull riding, and boxing. Decades later, he’s participating in a study with UT Southwestern that looks at the long-term cognitive effects that concussions may have on athletes.


- I haven't look at this in years.

- It's amazing how photos can transport you back in time.

- SMU Virginia Tech game.

- Just ask Brian Duncan and his wife Dian.

- I remember when I was nine years old I used to just think about, you know, being a professional football player. Those big aspirations became Duncan's reality after playing college football at SMU in Dallas, Texas, following a short stint in the World Football League.

- [Duncan] '76 Browns. Duncan was signed on as a running back by the Cleveland Browns. The years I played in the NFL were 1976, 1977, 1978. My trip to the NFL you know was not based on just pure raw inherent talent. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of discipline and a lot of staying with it. Football is known as collision sport and when playing at the highest level Duncan took a lot of hits.

- [Duncan] The higher you go, the more violent it gets.

- But this former pro athlete believes safety on the field has improved.

- This was my high school football helmet and as you can see, it doesn't have a lot of protection, not near of what they have today.

- He's now looking to science to keep aspiring football players safe in the game.

- [Duncan] How can we protect the younger players that are coming up?

- Duncan is among more than 70 former NFL players participating in research at UT Southwestern's Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. The goal is to better assess factors that lead to brain disorders.

- We started out, we're going to players association just telling them we're just recruiting athletes just to see effective concussion, on, you know, as you age.

- Doctor Didehbani says a new study of 35 retired players didn't find strong correlations between brain disorders, concussions and time spent in the NFL. Most players like Duncan show no signs of it.

- So there's a lot more nuances that we don't know and so I think a lot of people jump the gun a little too early in making these clear-cut decisions and clear-cut choices and saying that it's a link between playing and long-term damage and we just don't know what are the effects and why some people may have problems and why some don't.

- I don't know why they get it. It may be a lot to do with genetics and it just may be, you know, the number of hits and the number of hits taken the wrong way.

- And although there are still more questions than answers, Duncan believes the risk of playing is worth the reward.

- We know football's a great game, we know it teaches a lot of great life lessons, but we wanna make it safe and we wanna make sure that kids are getting the right information and parents are getting the right information so that they can make the decisions for their own kids.