It seems someone is injured in nearly every National Football League game.
Within the past few weeks, players have broken legs, ankles and arms. These are the visible injuries. Then there are the non-visible injuries such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degeneration of the brain believed to be caused by multiple head traumas. The diagnosis can only be made by studying sections of the brain during an autopsy after the patient dies.
In 2015, Boston University’s CTE Center researchers confirmed that 87 out of 91 former NFL players tested positive for CTE.
The disease occurs when the protein Tau forms clumps in the brain. The clumps slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells. Early symptoms usually appear in a person’s late 20s or 30s and they affect the person’s mood and behavior, according to concussionfoundation.org.
“Most patients progress through four distinct behavioral stages,” notes information on the CTE Society website. And each stage can include symptoms from the other stages.
The first stage symptoms include headaches, attention deficit disorder and confusion. Depression, mood swings and short-term memory loss are the most frequent stage two symptoms. Among the stage three symptoms are aggression, apathy, cognitive impairment and mood swings. Stage four symptoms include full-blown dementia, motor and visual difficulties, paranoia and speech impediments.
There is no treatment or cure.
On Nov. 9, Dr. Anne McKee, professor of pathology and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, shared her findings on the brain autopsy of Aaron Hernandez, a former tight end for the New England Patriots. Hernandez was arrested and convicted of the June 17, 2013, murder of Odin Lloyd, who was a linebacker for the semi-pro Boston Bandits football team.
On April 19, Hernandez hung himself in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts. In May, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge vacated Hernandez’s 2015 first-degree murder conviction of the death of Lloyd.
Dr. McKee and her team have examined 111 NFL players and 110 of them were found to have CTE, according to a July 25 article on The New York Times website.
In Hernandez’s case, Dr. McKee explained in her findings that the parts of his brain most affected by CTE were the areas that control memory, emotion and judgment. Dr. McKee noted the damage to Hernandez’s brain was the most severe case she and her team has seen in someone his age. He was 27 years old at the time of his death. People with findings similar to Hernandez’s were at least 20 years older.
McKee, who also is the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, stated she could not connect the dots between the pathology of Hernandez’s brain and his behavior. But the damage to the young man’s brain makes us wonder.
Among the shockingly high number — 110 — of NFL players diagnosed with CTE are Frank Gifford, Ken Stabler, Terry Long, Andre Waters and Junior Seau. The list of players suspected of having the disease is longer and includes Steve Gleason, Brett Favre, Jim McMahon and Steve Smith.
Let’s not kid ourselves, we love watching football, especially our Seahawks. Who doesn’t love watching Kam “The Enforcer” Chancellor make a big tackle?
But, we are concerned about the dangers of playing the game.
Rob Gronkowski (6-foot-6 and 265 pounds) suffered a punctured lung during the Nov. 13, 2016, Super Bowl XLIX rematch between the Seahawks and the New England Patriots from a clean and massive hit by Earl Thomas (5-foot-10 and 200 pounds).
After the game, Gronkowski told reporters, “Yeah, that was a big hit for sure; probably one of the hardest I’ve got hit in my career for sure.”
Is the NFL too violent? Probably. We don’t know what the future of the NFL will entail, but it appears the players will have a rough road ahead of them.
Referring to CTE, former baseball and football player Bo Jackson, in a Jan. 12 edition of USA Today told a reporter: “If I knew back then, what I know now, I would have never played football. Never.”
Jackson, who many people consider the world’s greatest living athlete, won a Heisman Trophy in 1985 while playing at Auburn University. He also is the only man to be an All-Star in baseball and a Pro Bowler in football, according to USA Today.
Seahawk fans may recall the Nov. 30, 1987, game in Seattle between the Seahawks and the Oakland Raiders when running back Jackson carried linebacker Brian “The Boz” Bosworth, into the end zone after Bosworth tried to tackle Jackson — who ran 91 yards for his third touchdown of the game. The Raiders won 37-14.
While playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and the California Angels, Jackson had a .250 batting average, had 141 home runs and 415 runs batted in.
When Jackson tells USA Today he never would have played football if he knew about CTE and that there is no way he would ever allow his children to play football today, CTE should be taken seriously.
Remember Jackson’s 1989-1990 Nike advertising campaign, “Bo Knows”? It looks like “Bo knows” something we might all want to know — football may be too violent.