By Kirsty Kerr
CTE is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative brain disease that leads to dementia, memory loss, mood swings, even suicide. This disease has affected millions of youth as well as retired NFL football players. CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head that damages brain tissue.
The earliest traces of it dates back to boxers in the 1920’s but it has never been as prominent as it is today in the NFL. The late former NFL players Junior Seau, Frank Gifford and Ken Stabler have donated their brains to doctors and the findings were astonishing. Doctors diagnosed all three players with CTE and even suggested that it led to Junior Seau’s suicide. As a result of these findings many people are questioning if it is worth playing in the NFL.
There are now studies that show doctors can detect signs of CTE early in the player’s career. This is not good for the NFL because if young players are told they will develop CTE, they will drop out. Parents could end future hall of famers careers early if they are told their son is in danger of developing CTE. In fact, former great NFL players like Mike Ditka and Drew Brees are not letting their sons play football because of the dangers. Harry Carson refuses to let his grandson play: “I cannot in good conscience allow my grandson to play knowing what I know… I want him to be intelligent; I want him to be brilliant; I want him to be able to use his brain and not his brawn.” Former players advising against their own children playing sends a powerful message to the real danger football poses. I think that these parents are completely entitled to prohibit their sons from playing football because it is not worth the lethal damage it does to your body. More parents should be aware of the reality of CTE to make informed decisions on what their sons should and should not play.
The current worry within the media is that in 10-15 years, the NFL won’t exist or only consist of players who have no other choice. Athletes whose futures don’t depend on a successful football career will quit, but those who do rely on it will have no choice but to play and suffer the consequences. This issue is not fair on those athletes that have no other options and they should be more protected than that. The NFL is at risk of losing future stars, and therefore, deteriorating the league’s overall quality of play.
The NFL’s commissioner Roger Goodell has recognized how threatening the public’s knowledge of CTE is for the NFL. He has come out with ways Pop Warner, the youth football league, will be changing their policies and safety precautions to limit concussions in young players. They are teaming up with Heads Up Football to “provide a better, safer way to teach and play the sport”. Together, they have developed new rules such as eliminating kickoffs and banning head-to-head contact in order to ensure a safer game. They also have football experts and health professionals to thoroughly train thousands of coaches on how to properly teach the fundamentals of blocking and tackling without causing severe damage to the opposing player. Hopefully these are not fake efforts to protect their image and rather they are truly taking this problem seriously. Additionally, Goodell has reported that the NFL is making important progress to ensure good health and safety for its players within his commitment letter. These procedures however, may still not be convincing enough to prospective players and parents.
Although the NFL is doing work right now to encourage safe play, football is inevitably a brutal sport so as more people opt out of pursuing a career- the NFL is at risk. The NFL can put 2 pounds of padding in the helmet but as long as there is a 300 pound man running into you like a bus there is very little a helmet can do. This is the reality of the sport and whether there is a solution or not, the NFL must find it quick. If not, we may very well be seeing the downfall of the most watched sport in America.