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Column: NFL, Fans Need to Take CTE Findings Seriously

Beware the Splinters

Beware the Splinters is Salute Magazine’s weekly sports column, authored by Sports Editor Dustin Brown. The column will be a weekly look at something that has ruffled the feathers of Mr. Brown or is just a topic he feels he needs to rant about or discuss. This week’s column focuses on the recent study and findings of CTE numbers in football.

The National Football League has long been known as the most popular of all the major professional sports, and that likely won’t change anytime soon. But the findings of a recent study on the link between football players and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are startling to say the least.

The NFL’s popularity has not been without controversy though, and now is a time that the league and NFL fans need to start taking head injuries that are caused by the game of football seriously. To make matters worse, the NFL announced that they are ending their partnership with the National Institute of Health, according to CBS Sports.

“The NFL’s agreement with [the funding arm of the NIH] ends August 31, 2017, and there are no current research plans for the funds remaining from the original $30 million NFL commitment.”

The partnership was always a rocky one, and the NFL seemed to be irritated with the NIH as their research always pointed at the NFL’s faults in terms of head injuries.

But, the NFL never appeared to take head injuries seriously — and still don’t seem that worried about the link between football and former player’s deaths from CTE. Understandably, due to the NFL being a business and not wanting to lose out on the billions of dollars that the league makes on a yearly basis.

However, players are starting to take notice of the problems with CTE linked to the health of players, and they are beginning to retire earlier than before. A couple of those players retiring early are former San Francisco 49ers‘ linebacker Chris Borland, and most recently, John Urschel, a 26-year-old offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Both Borland and Urschel announced their retirement due to concerns over head injuries caused by playing football.

“I know this new study that came out that 90 percent of players’ brains who were studied had CTE,” he said, coming up a bit short of the actual results. “There’s a lot of scary things, and think my wife would be OK if I hung it up, too,” via the New York Daily News.

The latest report on CTE was released earlier this week, and the findings were anything but kind to the sport of football. According to the study performed by the American Medical Association, out of 202 former football players who had their brains donated for research, 177 of those players had CTE (87 percent). The same study also showed that 110 of 111 (99 percent) former NFL players who had their brains studied after death were neuropathologically diagnosed with CTE.

While football will still exist in the near future, the NFL and its fans need to understand what this study means. Yes, the study is finding something following players deaths, but the research could lead to finding a better solution to the often misunderstood problem that is CTE.

There are also plenty of questions surrounding the new findings released by the recent study of CTE. And there are plenty of people that think the study’s results are eye-opening but are slightly nervous about the findings.

“Concussion research is still in its infancy,” wrote former Chargers team doctor David Chao last week, in a piece entitled, “Plea for timely truth about football’s link to brain disease.” “One day we hope to have precise classifications for the types of head injury. For example, the outcome of a ‘Grade 2B occipital lobe concussion’ or a ‘Grade 3C temporal lobe concussion’ might have different treatment and prognosis. It is hard to find a cure when you don’t know the exact disease. The truth is our knowledge of head injury today is like that of knee injuries in the pre-MRI and arthroscopy era. Everything was a knee sprain and we didn’t differentiate between ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL, or medial versus lateral meniscus tears.”

“That first step is not solved yet — whether there’s a definitive link to concussions,” Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a Toronto neuropathologist, told the Toronto Sun last week. “So how can you even think about who’s the most susceptible? Who’s not? What age is the worst? Just looking at these brains [posthumously], you cannot say any of that. It’s just impossible at this point,” via the Boston Globe.

Even Ann McKee, the Boston University doctor that performed the study, says that there are limitations to her findings.

“’There’s a tremendous selection bias,’ she told the New York Times, noting that many brains were donated specifically because the former player showed troubling symptoms.”

While fans of football get ready to watch yet another season of the game that we all love, remember that player health needs to become paramount going forward. If not, we will no longer be able to complain about the “weakening of the game,” as it might not be around if head injuries continue to be linked to the sport.

Stay tuned to Salute Magazine for more sports coverage.


  1. Michael Daly

    July 31, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    You better start reading ACTUAL analyses of this issue rather than the sensationalism being spewed in media. Player health WAS NEVER in serious danger. That 90% figure from the BU Group is a rehash of claims they’ve been making for years and comes from a woefully controlled sample – broader, more random study from the likes of the varied International Conferences On Concussion In Sport (Zurich in 2013 and Berlin this past April) show the issue is far less lethal, far more treatable, and shows no need for untoward concern or putting player safety over the physicality of the game – watching out for concussions and policing dirty hits is a no-brainer, but taking hitting out of the game is wrong. The game is safer now than it ever has been – remember the days in the 1970s when twenty fatalities a season in the varied levels of football youth to pros was what it was? No one gets killed anymore – and it’s only getting safer between ever-improving helmet and equipment technology, study of neck-support technology that down the road could prevent concussions (Boomer Esiason has noted study of animals such as rams who butt heads forever without concussion, study looking to see how it happens), and simply trusting in the toughness of players and the equipment.

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