An all too familiar campaign of denial.
It seems like every week a different retired football player from the National Football League publically reveals their private struggles with post-football related health issues, and particularly those attributable to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have suffered repetitive brain trauma, including sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause immediate symptoms. It can be years, or even decades, before the symptoms of CTE manifest in former athletes. While the diagnosis of CTE is relatively new, the disease is not. Historically, people have referred to the constellation of symptoms often found in former boxers as being “punch drunk.”
The impact of CTE can be profound. The symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Impaired judgment
- Impulse control
- Progressive dementia.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy has been linked to the suicides of NFL veterans Junior Seau, Jovan Belcher, Ray Easterling, Andre Waters, and Dave Deurson. Post-mortem evidence of CTE has been found in a player as young as the 17 year old high school football player who died hours after a game following a final hit to his head.
The debilitating symptoms of CTE can be just as frightening in the living. The number of former football players added to the growing list of those suffering from CTE symptoms is staggering. The list of players walking away from the game (and multimillion dollar contracts) in their prime over fears of suffering from post-career health concerns such as CTE continues to grow.
Just recently, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, acknowledged during testimony before a United States House of Representatives committee the causal relationship between playing football and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE. This was the first time the NFL publically acknowledged the link. His testimony was unequivocal when he responded that the answer to whether a link existed between playing football and CTE was “certainly yes.” He cited the findings of Boston neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee who diagnosed CTE in the brains of 90 of the 94 former professional football players she examined. To date, CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously.
The statistical link between CTE and football is undeniable. The science supporting the association is overwhelming. Unless you are Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. At a recent meeting, Mr. Jones told reporters it is “absurd” to link CTE and football. His statements denying the link included:
“We don’t have that knowledge and background, and scientifically, so there’s no way in the world to say you have a relationship relative to anything here. There’s no research. There’s no data. … We’re not disagreeing. We’re just basically saying the same thing. We’re doing a lot more. It’s the kind of thing that you want to work … to prevent injury.”
He went on:
“No, that’s absurd. There’s no data that in any way creates a knowledge. There’s no way that you could have made a comment that there is an association and some type of assertion. In most things, you have to back it up by studies. And in this particular case, we all know how medicine is. Medicine is evolving. I grew up being told that aspirin was not good. I’m told that one a day is good for you. … I’m saying that changed over the years as we’ve had more research and knowledge.”
Mr. Jones’ use of “there isn’t currently enough science supporting the link”, “we just don’t know”, and “we need to do more research” type arguments in an attempt to cast doubt on the clear association between CTE and football is not a new approach. There are literally mountains of documents demonstrating what Big Tobacco did to the American public for decades regarding the health hazards of smoking in an attempt to keep addicted smokers smoking and what Mr. Jones is trying to do sounds all too familiar. In fact, Mr. Jones appears to have taken a page right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook by utilizing “the case has not been proven” defense regarding the link between CTE and football. It was this approach successfully favored by the Big Tobacco companies about the risks of smoking that has killed and injured millions of people. Hide your head in the sand, invent controversies where none truly exist, and hope everyone believes your smoke & mirror routine for as long as possible.
Let’s hope the “Big Tobacco” approach is not nearly as successful this time around.