NFL: Concussion problem must be completely acknowledged

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Strong safety David Bruton
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Strong safety David Bruton /

The NFL problem with concussions is growing and they need to acknowledge it, completely.

Too many NFL players are turning up dead. Retired players committing suicide is becoming all too prevalent these days. As we saw on the big screen, it goes back to the days of Mike Webster and, as we have seen, has continued into the current days with the likes of Junior Seau taking his own life. The greats of our game having their personalities turn destructive and leaving Earth far too early.

What do they all have in common? Besides being NFL players, they all suffered concussions and have been diagnosed, post-mortem, with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, more commonly referred to as CTE. It’s a brain disease that has been widely linked to repeated blows to the head. Unfortunately for NFL players, blows to the head happen quite often. So we have the ongoing controversy. We have the suit filed by the retirees, the ruling and whatever else has come along.

To the league’s credit, they have put more acceptable protocols in place. The inclusion independent medical professional was a good step. There has been progress made from when teams put players back on the field after having their “bell rung”. The league did nothing on this issue for far too long and it cost players their lives.

But is the problem bigger than anyone imagined? A study was released recently (via The Jama Network) where 111 brains of deceased NFL players were examined for CTE. Keep in mind that the disease can only be diagnosed after death.

Of the 111 former pro players, 110 of them had CTE. Overall, the study looked at 202 brains and 177 of them had CTE. The odds appear to be pretty clear that players will get sick after their NFL days are over.

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There needs to be more research done. The lead author of the study, Dr. Ann McKee, told this to NPR about the brains that are donated:

"“Families don’t donate brains of their loved ones unless they’re concerned about the person. So all the players in this study, on some level, were symptomatic. That leaves you with a very skewed population.”"

For people who remember science class, Dr. McKee is saying that the study lacks the “control” group. There is no group that is part of the study that showed no symptoms. Therefore, we know concussions in football and post-football life are a problem, we just don’t know to what extent. That is why the additional studies need to be done. The professionals need to figure out how related to football the disease really is. Are there other factors, like genetic or environmental? The only way to find out is with additional research.

Per the NPR article, the league has committed up to $200 million to Dr. McKee and her team’s research. However, Dr. McKee is not so sure:

"“I will be extremely surprised if any of the 100 or 200 million comes my way,” she said in response to the league’s statement. “The NFL directs funding only to research they approve of.”The NFL has funded a portion of her past research, but in McKee’s view, there will be “no continued NFL support” because “the results are considered too damaging.”"

This is the scary portion of the program, ladies and gentlemen. Notions such as this portray a league more concerned with an image and its bottom line than it is with player safety.

The league makes money hand over fist, as the saying goes. They make it faster than they know what to do with it. In 2015, the league took in $13 billion in revenue, making it the top sports league in the category (per Market Watch). It’s not as if the league will go under if they fund the research. Roger Goodell and the league office should welcome this research.

Unless they don’t want to know the results.

They have hidden from the concussion problem before. It has taken all of these suicides to get the process moving forward, finally. But there is much more work to be done. If player safety is really the most important issue for this commissioner, they need to admit this problem and face it head on. They need to provide the doctors anything and everything they need in order to do the appropriate research. If not, the world will perceive that the league doesn’t care about its players.

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This game is great. I love it, and anyone reading likely does as well. If Goodell doesn’t face this problem head on, it could derail the game that means so much to so many. Get this right — there is no other option.