I don’t think we have seen anywhere near the full picture of the consequences of a link between playing football and CTE yet. Sure, some players have ended their careers early and cited CTE as at least playing a part in their decision to walk away, but those players have no idea if they have the disease and they won’t know until after they die because scientists can still only test for the disease in a deceased person. You wanna know what could really change football forever? The day that scientists figure out how to test whether or not a player has CTE while they are still playing football.
Believe me when I tell you that I understand. I understand that the picture I chose to include with this article is beautiful. I understand that the same picture is also viscous and visceral and devastating…and that’s why it is beautiful. It represents what football players risk every time they step on the field. They put their health at serious risk to entertain us and they get paid exceptionally well to do so.
One of those serious health risks, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, wasn’t even connected in any way to the game of football until 2005, but since then CTE has become one of the biggest ongoing stories for America’s most popular game. Some have said that CTE threatens the future of football itself. The recent Boston University study that found CTE in 110 of 111 former NFL players brains has thrust the disease, which has been referred to as the ‘NFL’s boogeyman’, back into the spotlight.
Trying to argue that football and CTE are not related is becoming harder and harder to do for those who still believe that a link doesn’t exist. I am not one of those. I am a football fan though. I want to see the game continue to thrive and if that is going to happen then football can’t ignore the real implications that playing football has when it comes to players long term health.
We still know so little about CTE, but the little we know is enough to make at least some players wary about continuing to play. What happens when a test is designed for CTE in a living player? What happens when we have a better idea of when the disease starts and how it progresses? What happens when the science gets to a point where a player might be able to take a test in the middle of the season and know that three days ago he didn’t have CTE and now he does?
Maybe most players would feel the way that New York Jets safety Jamal Adams said he feels about CTE. When asked about the disease and player safety at a fan forum on Monday, Adams responded, “Literally if I had the perfect place to die. I’d die on the field.” I still think the vast majority of players would feel that way even if they knew that they had the disease, but there is not anyway to be sure until we actually get to a point where they CAN know that they have the disease.
What happens when a player can’t assume that it is someone else’s problem? When they can no longer hear stats guessing that up to ten percent of NFL players have CTE and assume that they are part of the ninety percent? It’s not the only factor. As we learn more we can make the game safer and learn at what age kids should start playing the game to reduce the risk of CTE. However, I think a test for CTE in a living brain is the next truly game changing domino to fall.