Medical experts have been raising the red flag for years: Playing football can cause brain damage and long-term degenerative brain disorders. Now, for the first time, an NFL official has finally acknowledged the link.
According to an article in the New York Times, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, appears at a congressional committee roundtable discussion on concussion. According to the report by the Associated Press:
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) asked Miller: “Do you think there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE?”
Miller began by referencing the work of Boston University neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee, who has found CTE in the brains of 90 former pro football players.
“Well, certainly, Dr. McKee’s research shows that a number of retired NFL players were diagnosed with CTE, so the answer to that question is certainly ‘yes,’ but there are also a number of questions that come with that,” Miller said.
Schakowsky repeated the question: “Is there a link?”
“Yes. Sure,” Miller responded.
That’s a big thing to admit.
CTE is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disorder caused by repeated brain trauma, such as years of hard helmet hits in football or battle injuries in soldiers. It comes on years after the injuries, and can only be definitively diagnosed after death with an autopsy. Symptoms can be devastating, including memory loss, depression, and dementia. The effects have been likened to those of Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The link has become clearer in recent years thanks to the efforts of Dr. Ann McKee and other scientists at Boston University, who have established a Brain Bank. The goal is to better understand the effects of trauma on the human nervous system, specifically among athletes. Athletes’ brains are donated after death so they can be studied. Soccer star Brandi Chastain has said she will be leaving her brain to the Brain Bank to help researchers look at the long-term effects of heading the ball, which has recently come under scrutiny.
The question now is whether this acknowledgment by the NFL will affect its proposed $1 billion concussion settlement. According to an article on wralsportsfan.com, that settlement is being appealed by football players who are concerned that it only covers current cases of CTE, and excludes future cases…including all the children who are currently playing tackle football and already racking up head hits.
As we have written before, concussions are not benign. They are a form of brain injury. With this new admission by the NFL, the next logical step would be to put protections in place for players of all ages, and especially to protect the brains of children.