Thoughts on the Police and NFL Scandals

by Siegfried Othmer | February 18th, 2015

by Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Thoughts on the Police and NFL ScandalsIn recent months we have been sensitized once again to the problem of police violence perpetrated against men in their custody. The most famous cases persist in one’s memory—Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York, Ezell Ford in Los Angeles. And then there was also Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot in Cleveland. But there are the non-fatal cases as well that linger in memory: the woman kicked in the groin by a female officer while in custody; the man thrown on the ground with such force that his neck is broken. One reacts with revulsion to all these events.

Matters are much the same when it comes to the NFL. Rising to the top is the case of Ray Rice punching his fiancé into unconsciousness in an elevator. But then there was also the case of Adrian Peterson punishing his young son by whipping him and stuffing leaves in his mouth. We also had the case of Kings hockey player Slava Voynov punching his wife during a domestic dispute. And it’s not just the men. U.S. Women’s hockey star goalie Hope Solo had to confront charges of domestic assault by her half-sister and nephew.

In all of the above cases our impulse is to condemn the acts on moral grounds. The graphic records of these events are just appalling. We also realize, however, that similar violent incidents occur with our recently returned veterans. In one particularly tragic case, a one-year-old child was left in the care of the veteran husband while his wife went grocery shopping. When she returned, the infant was dead from shaken-baby syndrome. One’s immediate impulse to condemn is stayed by the realization that this veteran may not have been in command of his faculties because of his PTSD.

Surely the reason that Chris Kyle (the “American Sniper”) concerned himself with Eddie Ray Routh at all was that he had also been a combat veteran. His erratic and delusional behavior had a basis that was understood, so Chris Kyle reached out to him.

Years ago there was a string of domestic violence cases in the military housing at Camp Lejeune. And it has been reported that soldiers undergoing SERE training (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) have also shown an increased propensity toward domestic violence.

Is it possible that there is a common thread that connects all of these stories? Indeed there is. What connects all of these incidents is what is called minor traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Only the term minor is misplaced. There is nothing minor about minor traumatic brain injury. This descriptor merely indicates that no skull fracture or skull penetration is involved. That leaves plenty of room for mischief. We are most likely dealing here with the whole PTSD/TBI complex, the consequences for brain function of a series of physical and psychological brain insults. These may indeed be seen as minor individually, but they have a cumulative effect.

It is well-known that combat exposure over an extended period of time leads progressively to brain dysfunction even to the point of overt psychosis. This has been known since World War I. The British military basically assumed that a man was good for no more than six months in combat during World War II. And yet even in the face of this knowledge we exposed our service members to repeat tours of duty in Iraq. We are now bearing the fruits.

The life of a police officer in an urban environment bears some significant resemblance to the combat environment of the soldier. Repeatedly he is called upon to enter situations that present potential threats to his life and pose risks that cannot be calibrated. He endures overt threats, and must live with the uncertainties regarding potential acts of vengeance by people he has seen off to prison. And this goes on for many years. This is not a formula for sustained mental health and equanimity.

As for our soccer and football players, it is increasingly being recognized that the hits they endure are sufficient to leave lingering effects that cumulatively look like concussions and eventually may even result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Wives of NFL players with such injuries report that the deterioration of their husbands was gradual, and involved progressive loss of behavioral control.

The cumulative nature of the damage is very well established in research. This means that the entire life history matters when it comes to either physical or emotional trauma, and that includes the early childhood history in particular. I delve into this topic in more detail in an earlier newsletter on the suicide of Dave Duerson.

And now for the good news. We have forty years of history of effective recovery from minor traumatic brain injury with EEG neurofeedback. Neurofeedback was being used to recover people from traumatic injury well before the issue was ever acknowledged within the field of medicine. To this day, there is no known alternative to neurofeedback for mTBI. That is to say, there is no alternative to self-recovery, and through neurofeedback we provide the key information back to the brain that make it possible. Efficacy does not lie in the instrument but rather in the process. Our contribution lies in figuring out just what information the brain finds most useful in this recovery process. The instrument can be thought of as a mirror to the brain—but it is a mirror with an opinion!

In recent years the methods we have developed in our own office offer new hope for emotional trauma. The functional deficits resulting from psychological trauma can now be reversed as effectively as those of physical trauma. This new method has already been helpful to more than a thousand veterans of our past wars. You can see the evidence for this in the personal testimonials on our Homecoming for Veterans website ( Our work in this area is ongoing, and we are contributing as best we can by offering neurofeedback training for combat-related trauma at no cost to veterans of all wars. Our brain training technique is currently being used in three shelters for homeless veterans in Los Angeles, where the main beneficiaries are veterans of the Vietnam War.

But there is more. For those who continue to be exposed to hazards—police officers, participants in violent professional sports, our active duty service members—our advice is to do neurofeedback training ongoingly to keep your brain fitness intact. It’s as simple as that. Neurofeedback training can be used to recover function after every insult to the brain, in order to keep it in the best possible functional status. This disrupts the cumulative cascade into dysfunction.

In sum, brain training with neurofeedback is the answer for off-the-playing field violence, for excess resort to force by our police, and for our veterans still recovering from their combat experience.

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

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