Requiem for a Running Back
Following former Green Bay Packer Lew Carpenter’s postmortem diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — likely caused by years of playing football — his daughter Rebecca Carpenter embarked on a three-year quest. Her goal? To better understand this degenerative neurocognitive disorder, which can cause depression, unpredictable temper, obsessiveness, dementia, social withdrawal, and other behaviors.
She directed — and Sara Dee ’88 of Los Angeles produced — the resulting feature-length documentary, Requiem for a Running Back, whose other Wisconsin ties include former Badger linebacker Chris Borland. With refreshing humor, curiosity, and a big heart, Carpenter shares conversations with scientists, historians, her father’s teammates and opponents, and other families affected by CTE. The film screened in April at Detroit’s Freep Film Festival.
In a February New York Review of Books piece, Madison author David Maraniss x’71 discussed Requiem and summarized the fan-love/brain- trauma debate: “Mike Webster’s dead brain started it all, in a sense, and Chris Borland’s living brain intensified the discussion.” A postmortem examination of brain tissue from “Iron Mike” Webster x’74, a Badger center, longtime Pittsburgh Steeler, and NFL Hall of Famer — led to the discovery of CTE. Borland spent one season as a San Francisco 49er before retiring in 2015 at age 24 after researching the game’s potential long-term effects.
Boston University neuropathologist Ann Clark McKee ’75 has found CTE in many players. The results of her examination of Lew Carpenter’s brain reinforced neuroscientists’ belief that it is not severe concussions as much as repetitive subconcussive blows and jarring movements that cause CTE.
Published in the Fall 2016 issue