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Photo By: 
Phil Roeder

NFL admits the obvious

Now that brain damage is linked to America's favorite sport, where do we go from here?

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 15, 2016

Everyone loved football and America goes bananas every Fall as these modern-day gladiators take to the field and play one of the most excited, and dangerous, sports in the world. For the most part, the players both at the collegiate and professional level serve as role models to our children. The NFLPA's partnership with the United Way is one clear example of how these union members constantly give back. But what happens when their job is done and the camera's are off and the fans go home. A major medial issue has been exposed and any working person can almost relate.  

Over the last few years, the NFL and players have had a contentious relationship over the issue of whether or not football causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder that has been found in a number of former players.  From 2003 through 2009, the NFL published research that showed that Football had nothing to do with players developing serious brain trauma.  Much of that research has now been discredited.  Now the NFL is backtracking further from their previous claims.

During a round table discussion with Congress, the NFL’s Jeff Miller, a senior vice president for health and safety was asked by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois.), if the link between football and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE has been established. "The answer to that question is certainly yes," Miller said. "I think the broader point, and the one that your question gets to, is what that necessarily means, and where do we go from here with that information."

This change could be an important change for players of all levels.  While NFL players suffer the most damage to their brains due to their longer playing time, college students and even high school students have shown signs of traumatic brain injury.  "I unequivocally think there's a link between playing football and CTE," Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist who is a leading researcher on CTE said. "We've seen it in 90 out of 94 NFL players whose brains we've examined, we've found it in 45 out of 55 college players and six out of 26 high school players. No, I don't think this represents how common this disease is in the living population, but the fact that over five years I've been able to accumulate this number of cases in football players, it cannot be rare. In fact, I think we are going to be surprised at how common it is."

Since 2009, the NFLPA has been working with McKee and others to further the study of CTE.  The Player’s Association has also worked with former players who are exhibiting signs of traumatic brain injury to get the help they need and to further the research into this injury.  One such player is Darryl Talley, a linebacker on the early 1990’s Buffalo Bills.  In November of 2014, a profile of him in the Buffalo News painted a grim picture of his post playing days.  Faced with the inability to work, a broken body and severe depression, Talley said that he was contemplating suicide.  Contemporaries of his, including San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters and Pittsburgh Steelers guard Terry Long had committed suicide to only later be diagnosed with CTE. After his story came out, the NFLPA started a program to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses of retired players. Under the direction of Dr. Ross Zafonte, Darryl gained access to world-class health care at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Stories like these are why the NFL’s comments today are so important.  If the NFL is willing to admit to the science, instead of following in the path of the tobacco giants, then the players can get the help that they need before they turn into Junior Seau.  With the full backing of the NFL, the research also has the possibility to make the game safer for college and high school kids so that they don’t have to face some of the effects on their brains.

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