No More Brain Games: NFL Must Act to Prevent CTE

Former+New+England+Patriots+tight+end+and+convicted+murderer%2C+Aaron+Hernandez%2C+was+found+to+have+signs+of+chronic+brain+disease
Former New England Patriots tight end and convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez, was found to have signs of chronic brain disease

Former New England Patriots tight end and convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez, was found to have signs of chronic brain disease

New York Daily News

New York Daily News

Former New England Patriots tight end and convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez, was found to have signs of chronic brain disease

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Even though scientists have unanimously agreed for decades that humans are damaging the earth’s climate at an alarming rate, it took some of the most catastrophic hurricanes ever recorded to instigate a movement urging the Trump administration to acknowledge global warming.

Hopefully, Aaron Hernandez’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) diagnosis will serve as a similar impetus for all National Football League (NFL) leaders and owners to unequivocally admit the link between football and concussions.

A brain scan revealed Hernandez had one of the most severe cases of CTE, a degenerative brain disease, ever recorded. The disease is believed to be caused by repeated trauma to the head, and its symptoms include depression and violent outbursts, both behaviors the former New England Patriots tight end and convicted murderer demonstrated before his suicide in April.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of the CTE Center at Boston University, performed the scan just months after conducting a groundbreaking study in which she examined 111 brains of former NFL players and found that 110 showed signs of CTE. McKee’s study should have been the watershed moment in a years-long effort to protect NFL players, though the same can be said of 12-time Pro-Bowler and CTE victim Junior Seau’s 2012 suicide, or former players like Boomer Esiason telling the media they believe they may be suffering from brain injuries.

Granted, the NFL recently announced the “Play Smart, Play Safe” initiative and pledged $100 million dollars towards concussion and brain trauma research, including $60 million set aside for technological research into methods of reducing brain trauma. An advisory board comprised of scientists will oversee the allocation of the money, according to an August Outside the Lines report.

But just like climate change, the CTE problem can’t be solved with money alone. Until those in power wholeheartedly acknowledge the correlation between football and brain trauma, there will never be a strong enough motivation to effect change in the NFL.

Progress is already underway; Jeff Miller, a top health and safety officer for the league, has said CTE is caused by head trauma, and league commissioner Roger Goodell echoed Miller’s comments. However, some NFL giants like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones still vehemently deny the connection, and allegations that the NFL attempted to influence studies on brain injuries still cloud efforts towards progress. Moreover, an Outside the Lines’ report details several examples of NFL officials or affiliates attempting to discredit CTE by calling it a conspiracy or scam, or staying silent on the issue entirely.

It shouldn’t take another death or severe loss of health for the Joneses and others associated with the NFL to finally universally concede that football causes brain trauma, and Hernandez’s suicide and CTE diagnosis should be especially disconcerting. Regardless of whether his criminal acts were partially related to his condition—most scientists who have spoken to the media claim it’s too speculative to assert—the fact remains that a 27-year-old player had a stage of CTE often found in men in their upper-60s, according to McKee. Under no circumstance should that occur to any player, regardless of their position or sport.

Yet, it’s not only about past tragedies —Hernandez and Seau’s deaths included—but also about the health of players in the future. Now is the time for everyone to commit to a safer NFL.

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