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Concussions cause UW football players to leave the sport;  efforts to shrink dead zone fall short

Of note: This week we feature our latest installment in the Countering Concussions series. Center reporter Emily Hamer interviews three former Badgers football players who have left the sport over concerns about the long-term consequences of repeated brain injuries. The story focuses on Austin Ramesh, Jake Whalen and Walker Williams, all of whom have left the game since 2016. Ramesh, who suffered from debilitating anxiety, was on the cusp of an NFL career when he called it quits earlier this year. “I don’t want it to get … to the point where I just can’t really function at all,” Ramesh said with a sigh. “It just wasn’t really worth it to me anymore.”  

WisconsinWeekly, a collection of stories for people who care deeply about the state, is produced by Dee and Andy Hall, a couple who founded the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Dee is the managing editor and Andy is the executive director.

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Concussion concerns prompt more Badgers players to leave football

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism — December 16, 2018

“The hit that put Walker Williams’ brain over the edge… was nothing out of the ordinary,” writes Emily Hamer of the concussion-inducing collision that prompted the former University of Wisconsin Badger to leave football. According to Williams, that’s what many concussions look like. “Most of the time, they aren’t the big highlight reel hits,” he said. According to records obtained by the Center, UW-Madison student-athletes were diagnosed with 137 concussions from 2014 to 2018. But key information — including athletes’ names, which sports they played and whether the brain injuries were sports-related — was omitted, making it impossible to place UW-Madison within a national context.

Despite efforts to head off nutrient runoff, dead zones a growing problem

Wisconsin Public Radio — December 19, 2018

WPR speaks with Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Erin Jordan about her new investigation, which found that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico — caused by runoff traveling down the Mississippi River — has not shrunk over the past five years, despite efforts to reduce pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency left it to states to choose how to reduce runoff, and Jordan notes that while Wisconsin has made substantial progress in controlling phosphorus, its nitrate levels continue to rise.

Frac sand producers spent millions and filled wetlands for now underused rail yards

Wisconsin State Journal — December 17, 2018

In an attempt to reduce transportation costs in a struggling industry, frac sand companies built special rail yards designed to accommodate “unit trains” — trains of up to 137 cars all heading to the same destination. Some of those rail yards were built, with authorization from the state Department of Natural Resources, by filling in protected wetlands. But just a year after one of those project was completed, Union Pacific railroad announced it would phase out unit trains, rendering the new yards unnecessary. Previously from WCIJ: Wisconsin’s frac sand rush

Wisconsin’s tax burden drops to 50-year low, study says

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — December 19, 2018

A new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum shows that the share of income Wisconsinites pay in state and local taxes is at its lowest level since at least 1970, the first year for which the group has records. According to the report’s authors, the tax burden dropped primarily because incomes rose more than taxes did.

Want to make voting easier? Here are six ways to do it

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — December 18, 2018

“What would it look like if lawmakers did everything they could to make voting easier?” That’s the question that David Haynes, who leads the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s solutions-focused Ideas Lab, answers in his latest report. Haynes explores six steps lawmakers could take — including implementing automatic voter registration and making voting day a holiday — and how those measures have worked in the states that have tried them. Previously from WCIJ: Voter ID linked to lower turnout in Wisconsin, other states; students, people of color, elderly most affected

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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