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Minn. lawmakers want Lou Gehrig's medical records

Minn. lawmakers want Lou Gehrig's medical records

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Some Minnesota lawmakers hope to force the release of Lou Gehrig's medical records, saying they might provide insight into whether the Yankees star died of the disease that came to take his name or whether repetitive head trauma played some kind of role.

Their effort comes despite opposition from Mayo Clinic, which holds the records, and skepticism from experts that the records alone would prove anything.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a Minneapolis Democrat and self-described baseball fanatic, conceded that the records ``probably won't show anything.''

``But just in case they might it's ridiculous not to look at them,'' she said Thursday.

Gehrig's death is attributed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a debilitating neurological disease that after his death in 1941 became commonly known by his name.

Kahn said she became intrigued after reading about a widely publicized study in 2010 that suggested a potential link between repetitive brain trauma in athletes and ALS. She noted that Gehrig suffered several concussions during his career, in which he set a record for the most consecutive games played, and that he played football at Columbia University. Given all the information that's emerged in recent years about the long-term effects of head trauma in athletes, she said, it would be useful to know what Gehrig's records say.

Kahn said she and some other lawmakers hope to change state law to allow release of health records of patients who have been dead more than 50 years, unless descendants object or the patient signed a will or health care directive to the contrary.

Gehrig has no living relatives to give consent. Mayo Clinic spokesman Nick Hanson said the clinic can't discuss a patient without their consent or permission from a legally authorized decision-maker such as family or an estate administrator.

``Mayo Clinic values the privacy of our patients,'' Hanson said in an email. ``Patient medical records should remain private even after the patient is deceased.''

Several medical experts say they strongly doubt the records would shed any new light on the theory that Gehrig might have died from something other than ALS. That includes the author of the study that caught Kahn's eye, Dr. Ann McKee.

``I don't think the medical records would be helpful,'' said McKee, chief neuropathologist for the National VA Brain Bank and co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. ``It really requires looking at the tissue and he was cremated, so it's not possible.''

The president of the foundation that holds the intellectual property rights to Gehrig's legacy agreed.

``I fail to see what virtue this would have,'' said Dr. Rodney Howell, president of the Rip Van Winkel Foundation, which was founded by his father-in-law, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Sr., who was Gehrig's personal physician. Howell is also chairman of board of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which funds ALS research.

Even today, Howell said, ALS is diagnosed primarily by its symptoms and by signs of deterioration in the nerves that control voluntary movement. He said his views are guided heavily by the work of Dr. Stanley Appel of the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston, one of the world's leading ALS researchers, who was dismayed to hear that the lawmakers are questioning whether Gehrig died of Lou Gehrig's disease.

``Whether head trauma may have played a role in Gehrig's development of ALS can never be verified, but it is a complete disservice to his place in history as an icon for ALS to suggest that his disease was not ALS,'' Appel wrote in 2010 editorial for the journal Muscle & Nerve that took issue with McKee.

McKee's study didn't mention Gehrig but she raised his case in subsequent media interviews that left ALS patients ``distraught'' over the implication they might have been misdiagnosed, Appel recalled Thursday.

Appel said he agreed with Mayo that Gehrig's records should remain private. He said there's no way the limited data in records that old could yield any new scientific knowledge about whether his condition was linked to his concussions because the consequences of repeated head trauma in athletes have become understood only recently.

Kahn, a state lawmaker for 40 years, has a background in biophysics and a reputation for longshot legislation. Some of her past proposals have included a push to lower the voting age to 12 and to make the Minnesota Twins publicly owned. Given that Gehrig attended Columbia University, Kahn said, he clearly had a good education and a lot of intellectual curiosity.

``It seems to me that if he were alive he would be authorizing it,'' Kahn said.

Gehrig biographer Jonathan Eig thinks so, too.

Eig said he tried unsuccessfully to get Gehrig's medical records while researching his 2005 book ``Luckiest Man,'' but said he was able to interview Mayo Clinic doctors who saw the records, including one who knew a doctor who treated Gehrig. He said they confirmed that the ballplayer had the classic symptoms of ALS.

Gehrig was a strong supporter of ALS research, Eig said, and submitted himself to all kinds of experiments. And since Gehrig is still the ultimate symbol of ALS, he said, opening up the files would help the public learn more about the disease, even if they don't prove anything about his potential head injuries.

``My hunch is that he would be all in favor of public disclosure,'' Eig said.

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted the line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home in Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to www.capfiendly.com. Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s also signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.

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