The NFL has been in a ongoing battle with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) regarding concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In 2015, a movie called Concussion, which starred Will Smith appearing as Dr. Bennet Omalu, documented the nightmare effects CTE can have on former players.
Dr Ann McKee, a neuropathologist, examined the brains of 202 deceased football players, including 111 that played in the NFL. 110 out of those 111 players were found to have CTE. CTE is a degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head, something NFL players are quite familiar with. Memory loss, confusion, depression, and dementia are just a few of the many symptoms caused by CTE.
The symptoms differ among the cases and problems might not arise until years after the blows to the head have stopped. The players in this study range from players who died as young as 23 and who died as old as 89. The list includes 44 Offensive and Defensive Linemen, 20 Running backs, 17 Defensive backs, 13 Linebackers, 7 Quarterbacks, 5 Wide-Receivers, 2 Tight ends, 1 Kicker, and 1 Punter.
It is not surprising that linemen topped the list. Almost half of the players on the field make up either the Offensive or Defensive Line. Furthermore, linemen knocks heads on most of their plays, and brain trauma experts say “the accumulation of seemingly benign, non-violent blows – rather than head-jarring concussions alone – probably causes CTE.”
Dr. McKee and other researchers say that a correlation between suicide and CTE has not been firmly established. However, suicide unfortunately is not uncommon among players who suffer from CTE. A former Linebacker Junior Seau killed himself with a gunshot to his chest back in 2012.
The basis of the long-fought battle over concussions and CTE is that the belief that NFL knew of the risks and concealed them. In 2016, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior Vice President for health and safety policy said “the answer to that is certainly, yes,” regarding whether or not there is a link between football and CTE.
Furthermore, 87 percent of the total 202 brains that were studied were found to have CTE. Aside from the 111 NFL players, these other 91 players studied were from the Canadian Football League, semi-professional players, college players, and even high school players. “[E]ven those with mild cases of CTE, exhibited cognitive, mood and behavioral symptoms.”
According to Dr. McKee, “[i]t is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football – there is a problem.” Parents are worried for their children, especially those fathers who formerly played in the NFL. USA Football, the national governing body for amateur football, is paving the way to make the game safer, teaching safer methods of tackling, and also promoting playing flag football instead of tackle.