On Tuesday night, in reaction to the news that linebacker Chris Borland had retired after one NFL season, Steelers doctor and NFL consultant Joseph Maroon appeared on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access regarding the status of medical science and opinions as to potential brain damage from playing football. Dr. Maroon made waves in part by expressing an opinion that the problem of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy is “over-exaggerated.”
NFL senior V.P. of health and safety policy Jeff Miller, who issued the league’s statement responding to the Borland retirement, appeared on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio to discuss various topics regarding concussion prevention, treatment, and consequences. At the end of the interview, which can be heard under the “Best Guests” tab in the on-demand player, I asked Miller about Dr. Marroon’s characterization of CTE.
Here’s the question: “Dr. Joseph Maroon was on NFL Network last night talking about CTE, and at one point he said that the CTE problem is over-exaggerated. Is that his personal belief, or is that the NFL’s position?”
“Joe Maroon doesn’t speak for the NFL, nor we for him,” Miller replied. “He is well-known neurosurgeon who has a great deal of experience in this field, and his opinion, like those of many other neurosurgeons and neuroscientists, deserves respect. There are obviously competing views on this. We’ve heard perspectives from many different quarters on exactly this issue of CTE. We hear it from the International Consensus Conference in Zurich that meets regularly, from the leading sports concussion experts around the world. We’ve heard it from the National Academy of Sciences, the government body that looked into CTE and causation, and what the state of the science is there.
“So a lot of people have a lot of important opinions on it. What the NFL’s position is is that we need to act conservatively to make sure that our players get the treatment that they need, that their injuries are identified when they are, and that we are acting in their best interests. And that’s our position on the science.”
It’s still difficult not to regard Dr. Maroon’s opinions as being accepted and/or implicitly endorsed by the league. If, after all, the NFL disagreed with his views on this issue that has become vitally important to the sport of football, the NFL would employ someone else to evaluate its players.
Ultimately, it’s important to gather, to understand, and to present in easily digestible fashion more information as to what the current state of the research is regarding the causes and the risks of CTE. Borland decided after doing his own research that he no longer wants to play pro football. That doesn’t make his decision, which undoubtedly is the right decision for him, automatically right for anyone else. It also doesn’t make his decision wrong for anyone else, either.
At some point when the offseason begins to actually feel like an actual offseason, I’ll track down the current state of the medical research on these issues, presenting the information as objectively as possible — despite the reality that some will dub me a shill absent anything less than a proclamation that all football helmets should be stacked into a giant pile and burned like used tires.