The recent GQ article containing eye-opening information regarding the presence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in the brains former NFL players Mike Webster, Andre Waters, and others generally portrayed the NFL as an organization not interested in getting to the truth regarding the consequences of repeated blows to the brain box.
That perception has been somewhat undermined by the fact that a study commissioned by the NFL concluded that Alzheimer’s disease and similar memory-related diseases have been found in the league’s former players at a much higher rate than in the normal population.
“This is a game-changer — the whole debate, the ball’s now in the [NFL's] court,” Dr. Julian Bailes told the New York Times. (Dr. Bailes was recently interviewed by NBC/PFT’s Tom Curran regarding CTE research.) “They always say, ‘We’re going to do our own studies.’ And now they have.”
That said, we hope that this hasn’t become one of those red state-blue state issues in which the camps already are entrenched and each new piece of objective data becomes not an opportunity for enlightenment but an occasion for spin.
Consider, for example, the league’s reaction to the news.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Times that the study did not formally diagnose dementia, that it was subject to the shortcomings of telephone surveys, that “there are thousands of retired players who do not have memory problems,” and that “[m]emory disorders affect many people who never played football or other sports.”
That’s fine, but if the study had found no increased rate of dementia among NFL players, we don’t think Greg would be pointing out that the study is subject to the shortcomings of telephone surveys.
Bottom line? It’s no surprise that getting hit in the head hard and repeatedly might cause long-term damage, regardless of whether the sport is football, hockey, wrestling, or twilight jai alai. The challenge is to objectively determine the extent of the risks and to come up with ways to minimize them.
Hopefully, the league will embrace that challenge, regardless of where it leads.