« Revisionist History

Burden of Proof

2018-05-24

“He called to wish me ‘Happy Birthday.’ Then he said, ‘I’m failing everything.’”

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Before we begin a warning, this episode contains material that maybe upsetting to some listeners. Let me tell you about my own life. When was born, he was screaming and his that veins were out and, and the doktor said this is a Viking. I think that's kind of the way he lived a lot of that kind of passion. So, let's the way he lived, the man speaking is Tom Thomas, he sitting with his wife, Cathy Burly, she's english. Both she and Tom are united, pastors they met when they were missionaries in Zambia, Davis. Nay, Morgan and we're all organs house just outside of Allentown Pennsylvania Bungalow in a tidy subdivision.
You're too little children running around the a big friendly dog being taken friendly. Everyone has gathered to talk about Poland, the Viking, the sun and brother, who isn't there. My name is. That. Will you listen To is history, my pipe cast about things Look there misunderstood. This episode is about Owen. Thomas a young man. I never had the chance to me about what happened to him and why we should not forget I went to see Owens family on a cold winter. It we knew that he was kind of feeling down feeling depressed.
In the last. What would you say last month or so I dunno use depressed. I knew about stress in distress. He was Louis schools, prying, eyes, classes. Owen went full out all the time at everything His older brother Morgan says he couldn't keep up yes, we are selling options. I was real gonna. Give him like eighty site as seventy five percent and hues, not everything but just like, for example, school schooling key, would not anything less than a plus A minus was pissed, but see now they plus that now we don't know if he was having difficulty remembering things, because we never We never asked you she never even thought that that the mighty anything cognitive, three just thought this was somebody who's a tight, a person whose kind of light demanding so much of himself. In retrospect, I guess when things like
stop in retrospect, you can always try to look back and say I should have seen as I should have seen that such a Sunday night. He called he really sounded depressed. Then he really my leader and now you look that we should have just the cargo. Would you talk about? What was my it'd be my birthday. So he was he was wishing whose wishing me happy birthday. I don't want you to talk to you about TAT, said he's
failing every day when I said at the beginning that we shouldn't forget about Owen Thomas I'm talking about this- that we should not forget that he went from clarity and purpose to feeling everything in two thousand and thirteen. I was invited to give a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania welcome. It is my great pleasure on behalf of pens, four hundred and fifty German Franklin scholars to welcome you to the two thousand thirteen Benjamin Franklin Lectureship, to talk with the big auditory and Depend museum, I'd been assigned a theme proof and it's obviously a big topic, so I thought,
if this afternoon I would start by asking a relatively simple question, which is what level of proof do we need about the harmfulness of some activity before we act, I decided to tell the story of a man named Frederick Hoffman, a remarkable man born in eighteen. Sixty five in Germany, immigrated to the United States, Hoffman rose to the position of senior statistician, at the Prudential insurance company at the time. That was a hugely important job. This is in the years before Social Security or Medicare Prime ensures- were the safety net and because they had to figure out what to charge for life insurance premiums. They had to closely monitor the health of Americans, and that was Hopkins. Job He set out and he would cover the entire country, any good visit towns and cities and villages all across?
this land, anyway interview doctors and hospitals and fuel directors any would visit all the major employers and even go to the cemeteries any would talk to people and he would walk the town and he would try and get a sense of what people are dying of. Hoffman was one of the first but to sound the alarm about smoking. He was one of the first to describe the terrible health conditions on indian reservations, but perhaps most important work concerned. What was known at the time as minors Asma. I give a fair number of talks, and one of the things that you can usually tell is, if you ve lost your audience- and I remember that dared pen thinking that I had no idea twenty minutes in. I began to panic a little because I'm going on and on about Hoffman about Coma
about how big a deal call was the turn of the century. But how much does the process of coal mining created about how commoners would have coughing fits and speed up this black increase? since, and they would cause more and more of it. The more they mind in the more time they spent in the coal mines. That was absolutely beyond question. The audience is incredibly quiet and I couldn't figure out if that was because they found the subject as fascinating as I did, or if they were thinking what on earth the thing that no one could agree on was wasn't that whether that was dangerous did it harm the health of some one to inhale all of this dust from commenting minors, asthma, wasn't bothering the medical community and the mining companies, they said, look Minors have lower rates of tuberculosis than everyone else. Tb is a respiratory disease, so may be called us is protective in some way
Another argument was: if minors were coughing up dust particles, then your lungs functioning as they should for years and years and years, nobody paid particular attention to the problem of coal dust because they had all of these arguments that they use To convince themselves that it wasn't a health risk and then along comes Frederick Kaufman. Prudential ensured a lot of minors and if their dying young Now is a real problem for prudential, so Hoffman investigated. And in nineteen eighteen he published is. This famous report was called more a from respiratory diseases in the dusty trades and it comes out it was published by the Bureau of Labour statistics by the government federal government, Imaginating Hoffman was methodical. First, he looked at the government's statistics onto colossus. He found no evidence, minors had lower rates of TB. Then he looked at asthma death rates. They were five times higher for coal.
Minors than for other working men. Hoffman looked at census data who was still working after the age of forty five for farmers. The time almost a third were still working for minors. It was a fifth mining was so healthy. Why were all the miners disappearing from their profession?. So he has all this up and he says: look I don't buy it. I think that this minors, as MS thing, is something that we should be concerned about So here we have the scene statistician from one of the most powerful and important institutions in the country publishing a report on that
health of workers in one of the most important and critical industries in the country and saying there's a problem. So why do you think happens? Nothing happens, nothing whatsoever, and why does nothing happened because all kinds of people stood up in Red happens report and said you ve got no proof. Let's give the students have pen credit for their patience, because this part of my talk went on for a very long time, but I was trying to answer the question at the core of proof. At what point do you act? People argued after Hoffman published his report that we still didn't know quite enough that he had a lot of suggestive evidence but not defer.
It is evidence- and that was true, but it was also irrelevant, because if you wait until the evidence is perfect in complete you'll never act, it was not until the nineteen seventy people suddenly realised that tens of thousands, sense of minors were dying horrible deaths vastly prematurely because of the dusty inhaled while work, in the mines. Now I think we can all agree that that is a appalling story right that should never. Happened. We should have acted on this in nineteen eighteen Instead, we acted on this in nineteen seventy five, We look around the room when we say to ourselves. We would I do that. Would we were much too educated and sophisticated and am pathetic. Ever look at the suffering of someone else,
say we're not going to act until we have proof, but we do that all of US do that. Everyone in this room is doing that even as we speak now. What am I talking about? I'm talking about Football Owen, Thomas, the red hair, Viking was a football player, so is his father Tom. He was the nigerian sixties here. I was a fool back which, in the backyard. Nothing about american football. Owens grandfather played for Miller Seville University. His. Your brother Morgan played offensive tackle for EAST Strasbourg University in Oakland.
So guess what kind of above him on the dining table right in front of me, are Owens helmets from middle school and high school and college all scratched and bad lined up in a row. It's hard for alignment of. You start. You know, like you running back we're back. Those are really stars, but he was definitely fear player from all angles and people moving so he was deafening wanted one star. He couldn't wait for the season to begin the most votes, the football player say: I just don't they stay practice was boot would just be like like putting on a uniform and right, but I just can't wait to hit somebody. I just want to get some, and that was that his own team, that, with that Don T, always in it when it came time for college Owen. Thomas went to the University of Pennsylvania
you're just going guy guide on a bad day when they had a wake up at six, seven o clock in the morning to do work out, and everyone had class unearthing. He was a kind of guy that would everybody motivated to complete we're gonna go on with your day. He was named captain of the football team. Seventy six out of the eighty players voted for him. Then one day out of the blue in spring of his junior year. He hung himself in his apartment Tom sent me a text message except. I was in a what listen to lecture so and so, and he kept Some colleagues are always messages. Call me call me call me, so they drove down to Philadelphia. They went to identify their sons body in the hospital
and in the car on the way back on this terrible terrible day. They got a call from someone named Chris New, insecure noon, skis a former college football player with a Phd in Neuroscience, who runs the concussion legacy foundation. He works with a group of researchers, a Boston University for more than a decade they ve been autopsy. The brains of people who have in the course of their lives, suffered repeated blows to the head. Looking for something called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, see tee getting hidden ahead, causes your brain to twist and Bruce. If you get hit enough times that bruising causes the accumulation of a protein called and that town slowly works its way through to the brain like a poison. So far, Lewinsky's group has
autopsy the brains of a hundred and eleven former NFL players. A hundred and ten had city. Seven of eight former canadian Football League players added so did nine of fourteen semi pro players. Forty eight of fifty three college players, three out of fourteen Highschool players the symptoms of city include difficulty thinking, impulsive behaviour, depression short term memory, loss, difficulty, planning, emotional instability and suicidal thoughts and behaviour. It's not pleasant. One of the first pro players diagnosed would see.
Was MIKE Webster. He was a hall of Fame Center with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He got it. Fifty in his house is family found page after page of scribbled notes, written by Webster to document his mental state like this deep, confusing, twisting fishing line tangled up mess of confusing things, go on all the time or junior, say I'll and Dave Duerson, two of the great football players of their generation both
themselves in the chest, had the ages of forty three and fifty. Why, in the chest to make sure their brains were intact for autopsy to make the pathologists job easier? Now our cases like this absolute proof of a connection between city and football players getting hit and had no, the research group at Boston University has just published a study which looked at players who had started playing tackle football before the age of twelve. I'm quoting youth exposure to tackle football,
reduce resiliency too late life. Neuro pathology may reduce, remember their working from a non representative sample autopsies conducted on players whose families believe something was wrong. Proof would be if you identified two thousand people, half of whom play football and half of whom do not followed them over the course of their lives and compared the autopsies of their brains. A death. Did the football players have, on average, more the protein tao in their brain tissue than the non football players? The problem is that the average american male life expectancy is seventy five years. If we start that study now, we'll have definitive proof somewhere around the turn of the next century. The much much harder question is what you do in the interim, and the answer is that you do what Chris.
No whiskey of the concussion foundation. Does you plug away? You called people up at the height of their grief and asked them for brain tissue before the body of their loved one is buried or cremated. You call up people like Owen Thomas's parents is this is a day when it was like, poured Lord and poured with rain the whole day, and so we will go back, it was must have been about like ten o clock at night. At the turnpike. And suddenly this I get this phone call from person, whose name I can hardly understand the Thomas's were to stone to say no heat, but he still had to do quite a lot of work because he had to then call the undertaker and get the undertaker to to get to the brain. After which had been just like dumped in the bag by either the magic examine yeah
somebody to answer when you were well medical examiner did an autopsy. So this is a football player who had committed suicide. I didn't I didn't make any attempt to to preserve the brain matter which now I look back on it and I think, crazy as that, but that, but that the brain matter was just like all mixed up with all the rest of the bits and pieces is thrown in the bank. Owen Thomas died in April the following September. His parents got a second call Owen had city and suddenly it all made sense why their focus, joyful, high, spirited, so Had suddenly called and said, I'm feeling it everything, how did a news changes,
What is the impact on hearing? I say you said you were needed: sunsets was a contributing factor that it wasn't just depression. There was caused that you could marry. Cause if you could maybe say that contributed to it. Well, it gave us
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couple? What do we know about football? We know about football. Approximately. What Frederick Hoffman knew about coal dust in ninety Eighteen. So there I was in the Harrison Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania. It was two thousand and thirteen Owen Thomas had been dead for three years: There were students in the room who had known him who remembered him. So I told the story of how he was found hanging in his apartment, and I asked them is that enough proof, for you is the death of someone you went to school with. Who was the captain of your football team enough evidence to walk away from the game sometimes think about that moment. When I met Bob's library, New York University. I do a lot of my research there, the light
He has a massive multistory atrium at its centre and a few years ago, a student jumped over one of the railings, overlooking the atrium and immediately immediately and a great expense. The university put up high plexiglas screens in front of every railing, then a few years after that, a student found a way to wriggle over the taxi glass and jumped to his death. So the university installed an even more expensive and elaborate and foolproof metal screen that was impossible to get around or over to suicides and they spent millions of dollars. Why? Because the job of a university is to watch out for the wealth other students under its care, an end. Why you didn't need any more evidence to act.
Two thousand and nine Lincoln a crown by together in order to overcome adversity. Here is what pain did in response to the suicide of Owen, Thomas and the result. His brain autopsy. They honoured him with forty seconds of silence before the season opener. The next fall against Lafayette Owens. Z had been number forty, his teammates war decals on their helmets with a number forty on them, parallel to the sideline standing for a forty second moment of silence in tribute to them on Monday, and here is the
statement. The university issued upon hearing that oh and Thomas had been diagnosed with city. I read it to the audience, whereas it pennant two thousand and thirteen. While we will never know the cause of Owen Tolerances depression and subsequent suicide, we are aware of and deeply concerned about, the medical issues now being raised about football head injuries and welcome new to work with the Ivy League and the medical community. In addressing these issues, Owen, untimely death was a terrible tragedy and we continue to grieve for his loss where to start. The start with a statement? We will never know the cause of Owen, Thomas's, depression and subsequent suicide. Are you kidding me. What is there more to know? help the young man with no previous history of depression this himself in his apartment,
do an autopsy on his brain. They finally has the beginnings of a debilitating neurological disorders caused by taking too many hits on the football field, and then. Statement. We are aware and deeply concerned about the medical issues being raised about football head injuries. We are so aware, Be concerned about the medical issues being raised about football head injuries that three years after Owen, Thomas's death penny continues to play football in my book. That does not count as concern. That is moral indifference. Not long ago, I went to see Albert Snowy the head Football coach Columbia University before that he was a pen. He was Owen, Thomas's coach
and he reminded me I'd left someone out Owen Thomas, wasn't the only one or two requirements to turn their both dramatic Piles was unbelievable because that happened rate midseason. So what happened after you score to touchdowns we'd, be back now fifty one something Kyle Ambrosia STAR running back on the pen, football team and a student at the Wharton School, a business just like oh and Thomas, he shot himself at his mother's house. Toby two thousand and five, there wasn't an autopsy uncoil, ambrogio brain in two thousand and five c d just was, On people's radar in the same way that it is now so we'll, never know whether he suffering from the disease. The way we
Why, though, and Thomas we don't have proof, but what happened to Carl Ambrosia sounds very much like what happened to Owen Thomas His life, a young man, plays a sport that involves repeated blows to his brain until suddenly, he fell apart in a way that looks an awful lot like the way people fall apart after they ve had repeated blows to their brain. In other words, even physical changes, his eye color got lighter and good to see that he is fighting demons and he couldn't explain them. That's Kylam broaches brother Greg. I asked the woman he would I don't mind them in ages, would run out of words. He would over his mouth? Another come out and out just look at him and I didn't.
Only thing he said to me as mommy. It's so dark, it's scary, and it was very frightening to him because he was always used to being control, and this is an out of control, feeling Kyle's, mother, Donna. Listening to the ambrogio was like listening to the Thomas's someone, you know become someone, you dont know right in front of your eyes and they haven't done anything. They haven't been in a terrible accident or overdosed on drugs or squandered their life away. They just played a game, played it well and if you're always like, I said the internally driven. You know I never had to say I'll. Do your homework go practice go whatever he always had done. I had a time that was him. This is what he wanted
Two, so if you used to being in control- and your mind is, is your having thought that you have don't have control over its very scary, Had anything you done. Is a coach prepared? You four minutes really tough position to be nothing. You can do. What did you say, your prayers. Basically, what we're here for you, yeah anytime, you get back to the deal, because again bring you back to it's really important what is an important area in which premium I'm gonna win this game yet again, The title in Urban comes later: that's rather trivial Did I miss assuming the full teamwork? the funerals. In both cases, there must have been yeah
Presumably it's it's very sad because, again,. It's hard to explain my bet. It's unusual somebody in a car accident, but you can plainly or someone who suffers from total catch. Justice dramatic, but you can explain it When you're a team made of acute commit suicide, your middle- could I am why do I say this? Could I have done something in everything he always question yourself. Look at I've done that maybe in some other ways of death. It kind of, except I found a lot about that talk. I gave it
I'm not sure I won them over the students, listen politely and, at the end asked thoughtful and sceptical questions. I talked about the costs of football. Why didn't they talk about the benefits they asked? Doesn't everything come with a risk? I shouldn't people be free to make their own choices. A student who is on the football team, stood up and said I wouldn't be here too
and for further, when I met with coach bag newly he talked about rule changes, how they are now much more vigilant about concussions how they dont tackle in practice like they used to how he doesn't believe that little kids should play tackle football. I got the sense that lot of students were thinking about those things to maybe we can just manage this problem reduced the risk to some more acceptable level. After the speech as I walked to the post event reception, one of the big dean's at pan looked at me and shook his head. He said without stopping for coastal and it won't stop at least not until the third suicide, or maybe the fourth suicide or the fifth at which point the students in alarm nigh a pen.
Finally say: that's an awfully high price to pay for a game. How big Nellie brought up one more name is unfortunate, becoming more and more prevalent, and I just saw the Catherine you know Washington State, whose brother actions here? Name of the kid from Washington State was Tyler how Linsky he was supposed to be the twenty nineteen starting quarterback for the Washington State Cougars a few days before my interview with Beg newly Linsky bar teammates rifle and shot himself in the head. A bright outgoing kid with a big smile. No motive is, unfortunately becoming more and more prevalent, but I guess we don't have enough proof.
Well, it's your classmates or die right. It's your classmates who are putting their lives at risk by playing this game. I think all of you, Hasta, think about has to consider boycotting football games a pen. I think you have to convince your friends to boycott football games, a pen, and I think you have to pick it outside football games. A pen- and I think you have to go to the administrators of this university and you have to ask them. Why is world class institution. One of the finest universities. We are learning in this planet exposed. In its own students to the risk of injury and death, and if they ask for proof, tell him you don't need proof. Sometimes proof is just another word for letting people suffer
revisionist history is a panoply production. The senior producer his meal about with Jacob Smith and Camille Baptista are editor, is Julia Barton. Flood Williams is our engineer fact checking by best Johnson original music by Luis Kara, special thanks to Anti Bowers and Jacob iceberg. I welcome that suicide, is a difficult topic. It can be hard for people to talk about suicide or get help if they are in danger, but there are resources available people what to help the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is one excellent resource
it's free, confidential and available twenty four hours a day, the number in the? U S is one eight hundred to seven three, eight to five five, one, eight hundred to seven three talk.
Transcript generated on 2020-01-12.