The NFL Is Where Brains Go To Be Destroyed

The cat is officially out of the bag. Football is a brain crusher. 

In 2016, the NFL publicly acknowledged for the first time a connection between football and CTE. In June 2015, a federal judge approved a class-action lawsuit settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players, providing up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma.

According to CNN.com, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research,” according to a study published in Tuesdays Journal of the American Medical Association.

While the study has its flaws and according to CNN, lacks an overall estimate on the risk of participation in football and its effects on the brain, out of 202 deceased former football players total — a combination of high school, college and professional players — CTE was neuro pathologically diagnosed in 177, the study said. 

The disease was identified in 110 out of 111 former NFL players. It was also found in three of the 14 high school players and 48 of the 53 college players. The study included brains of individuals and former NFL stars who have been publicly confirmed to have had the disease.

The Boston Globe says, “a team from the Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System documented the troubling behavior, disturbed moods, and impaired thinking in people who had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.”

Symptoms of this disease include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and sometimes suicidal behavior.

The repeated head trauma sustained in football can no longer be denied and over a period of time it can have lasting and damaging effects on people. Football has been around for decades, but knowledge of this neurodegenerative brain disease recently surfaced around 10 to 15 years ago. 

Brilliant minds such as Dr. Ann C. McKee the lead author of the study and the director of BUs CTE Center and chief of neuropathology at the Boston VA  spend their days analyzing brain tissue and trying to provide the NFL with answers on how to prevent this disease from eliminating their beloved sport. 

We have all heard and seen the horror stories that have emerged as NFL players suffering from CTE have met tragic fates. We know how long it took the NFL to acknowledge that playing football and suffering concussions is causing these problems. 

On the same day as the report was dropped, the NFL instituted some changes to improve their concussion protocol. 

NFL345 on Twitter

NFL and NFLPA Announce New Policy to Enforce Concussion Protocol https://t.co/AUr9bPWcUV

The biggest dilemma to finding a cure or pinpointing the root of the problems is that CTE can only be definitively diagnosed with an autopsy. Most cases, says CNN.com, have been seen in either veterans or people who played contact sports, particularly American football.

“There’s no question that there’s a problem in football. That people who play football are at risk for this disease,”  Dr. McKee told CNN.com. “And we urgently need to find answers for not just football players, but veterans and other individuals exposed to head trauma.”

Despite its billion dollar marketing machine and fan support, football is at a crossroads. People respect scientific proof and NFL players are wising up as well. That gladiator mentality has given way to a deeper understanding of the risks that football presents, even to high school aged players. 

Former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins safety David Bruton Jr. announced his retirement  from the NFL on Sunday at the age of 30, citing health concerns as the motivating factor after suffering six concussions during his career.

“I’m burnt-out, definitely worry about my health, Bruton told ESPN. Another season was cut short by a concussion [in 2016]that’s six. I’m a guy who likes to use his brain. Especially back in school, I need as many brain cells as possible with all these science classes. It came down to health, and I’ve definitely had my time in the league. I’m ready to move on.”

We know there are a slew of other players who feel this way and hope they can get paid before their brain gets bruised. The NFL has a formidable task ahead trying to make changes that acknowledge these facts while maintaining the integrity of their gladiator sport and balancing safety and the entertainment it provides for fans, which is based upon violence, brutality and physical contact. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.