Opinion: NFL finally admits what we already knew about CTE

Matt Poe

An NFL official, for the first time, admitted that there is a probable link to the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and playing football long-term.

The NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, Jeff Miller, flatly said “the answer to that question is yes” when asked about a link between the two during a House of Rep. committee on Energy and Commerce meeting about concussions.

The disease, for those unaware, is the result of repeated blows to the brain, which can lead to major long-term effects, such as depression, dementia and memory loss. The problem is that the disease can only be diagnosed post-mortem, when it’s too late to really help those affected by it.

Scientists and the general public have known this for quite some time now, so what does this “revelation” from the NFL mean? Probably nothing. But Matt, the NFL says player safety is important to them? Of course they say that, dear reader, but do they truly? No and here’s why:

Google Jim McMahon, the former Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Chicago Bears and you’ll understand what this disease does to a person. You’ll understand how it affects him and everyone around him.

Google Junior Seau and read about how badly-injured his brain was when he took his own life by shooting himself in the chest. Go find out about how the NFL tried to edit and withhold parts of his daughter’s speech at her dad’s posthumous hall of fame induction for fear of her mentioning the disease.    

Funny how America’s most profitable and powerful sports league subtly mentions this at a government meeting in March when most eyes are not directed on football.

It couldn’t even come from the mouth of Commissioner Roger Goodell, who makes an annual whopping $34 million plus in salary. Not a peep out of him, except for the fact that last month he compared the risks a player faces in the NFL to be equivalent of the risks one faces when sitting on a couch.

My problem isn’t with football but with the NFL’s negligence. I’m not ready to say the league is at a crossroads; the NFL is more popular than it has ever been and will only grow in size in terms of fans, teams and outreach.

While enrollment in youth football has declined, it’s not going to stop all kids from playing, and it won’t stop kids from watching. So long as guys like Odell Beckham Jr. continue making ungodly catches and hit the whip in the end-zone.

The shield and those who defend it, within the league and media, are stronger than ever. Where the NFL and football fans go from here will be interesting to see.

Does the NFL make the game safer? I don’t see how you can make football any safer unless you change the helmets back to the old leathery cap that guys wore in the 1920s. Today’s players use the helmet as a weapon, not a protectant.

Columnist Drew Magary wrote a great take on how the NFL could do this but I don’t see it happening because a vast majority of fans would be outraged. So the only foreseeable solution, other than tweaking the game entirely, is to recognize why former players are dying in such tragic, violent ways. The answer is CTE and the NFL finally began to peak behind the curtain of brain injuries it kept shrouded for so long.

Only problem is, they did it 15 years too late; not timely enough to save players like Seau. Recklessness, incompetence and greed is what I call it. Transparency can be a beautiful thing, but when you confess what everyone knew all along, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.  

Matt Poe is a columnist for the Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected].