Written by Gabe Burns, Sports Editor
As Jamaal Charles finds a gap, he explodes 20 yards into the open field until tackled by Raiders defenders.
Just a “football play,” as it’s so often described by fans. But each one of those plays is much bigger than what the spectators see.
According to Boston University, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” CTE can only be diagnosed post mortem.
Ken Stabler, a former Oakland quarterback who passed away last July at age 69, was diagnosed with CTE. Junior Seau, a Hall-of-Famer, committed suicide in 2012. Seau’s family was informed that his 20-year career caused CTE, and his brain was “gradually deteriorating.”
“I think it’s important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE,” Gina Seau, Junior’s ex-wife, said to ESPN. “It’s important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don’t want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.”
San Francisco’s Chris Borland retired after a strong rookie season due to fears for his health, which raised eye-brows around the league. J.J. Watt, arguably the best player in the NFL, said on Monday he would consider early retirement.
Dr. Ann McKee, a researcher at Boston University, found CTE in 90 of 94 former professional football players studied. That is almost 96 percent.
For years the NFL has vehemently denied a connection between it and CTE. Jeff Miller, NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, changed that. Miller acknowledged his belief in the connection between the league and CTE in March, but added that so little is known about CTE that it is difficult to get into details.
Miller’s colleagues have been less affable. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones referred to the suggested connection as “absurd” while Commissioner Roger Goodell has not publicly stated a belief in the correlation.
“From my standpoint, I played football for nine years through high school and I wouldn’t give up a single day of that,” Goodell said. “If I had a son, I’d love to have him play the game of football because of the values you get. There’s risk in life.”
Goodell and Jones’ opinion go against the grain. If we are to assume there is at least a miniscule relationship between football and the disease, it begs the question why much of the league’s decision makers are ignoring it.
As fans, we cheer when a player gets hammered by another. But those men are taking years off their lives for our entertainment.
On the other side of the coin, NFL players are adults who are paid millions to take those hits. It’s their choice and if the money outweighs a potentially shorter life, who are we to disagree?
Goodell and his associates would be best off to recognize the correlation. The league has increased funding for research, but the athletes need better support. They are giving their lives for the game. The least the game can do is spare no expense to keep them healthy.
I do not feel guilt when watching football and I doubt you do either. There is little we can do besides keeping our cash in our pockets in protest, which realistically won’t happen. The athletes enjoy what they do and are rewarded handsomely for their efforts. The responsibility falls on the NFL administrators to admit there is a problem and work to find a solution before young athletes drift away from playing football.