Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants to see more research before he’s willing to concede a causal link between football and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Jones said at the league meeting this week that he doesn’t disagree with Jeff Miller, the league’s senior vice president for health and safety, who said last week that there’s a link between CTE and football. But Jones also said he would like to see more research before he can say categorically that he believes a link has been proven.
“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,” Jones said. “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. A big part of this is prevention. But the other part of it is to basically understand that we don’t know or have any idea that there is a consequence as to any type of head injury in the future. That has to have a lot of research, just as the heart did 50 years ago. And certainly everybody that had heart issues 50 years ago didn’t live a normal life. Nature takes care of that. So no, I didn’t think at all that his statements altered anything. . . . It didn’t alter anything about where we are.”
If Jones is trying to say there hasn’t been a double-blind study comparing the brains of a randomly selected group of football players and a randomly selected group of non-football players, he’s right: So far, CTE has been found in the brains of a self-selected group of football players, and most of those players or their families asked for their brains to be studied because they suspected CTE. But if that’s what Jones is trying to say, he needs to say that more clearly. And if researchers say that’s the type of study that’s needed, the NFL should pay for such a study, without trying to influence how the study is conducted.
The NFL should also finance studies to determine what it means to have CTE, answering questions like why some ex-players with CTE, like Tyler Sash, die of an overdose in their 20s, while other ex-players with CTE, like Frank Gifford, remain mentally sharp enough to work in broadcasting into their 70s.
Jones’ comments will be viewed by many as the NFL trying to deny responsibility for its players health problems in later life. At the very least, Jones’ comments show that the league’s owners have not yet come up with a clear, coherent message on the subject.