Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE will change the way that football is played– if it is played at all– in the years to come.
A 2017 report studied the effects of CTE on the brains of 202 American football players. Of the 202 participants, 111 played in the NFL. Of the 111, only one brain did not show signs of CTE. One.
CTE, for those who don’t know, can have life-altering changes on the brain. It is caused by repeated blows to the head and results in personality changes, memory loss and behavioral changes.
Aaron Hernandez, a Super-Bowl-winning tight end for the New England Patriots, had “the most severe case of CTE ever discovered in a person his age,” according to the Washington Post. Hernandez died via suicide at age 27 while in jail for first-degree murder. There are speculations that CTE may have led him to commit the crime though we may never know the true motive.
Awareness of the Problem
Needless to say, the NFL is aware of this problem and of the research existing about CTE. The NFL released a statement in response to the 2017 report. The statement reiterated how many questions were left unanswered; however, it also highlighted the NFL’s want to prevent CTE by bringing attention to its $100 million donation made to support research in 2016.
Later in the year, the NFL gave an additional $35 million to brain injury research according to a report. Clearly, the NFL is well aware that brain trauma is an issue associated with football, and the organization wants to prevent it.
Last year, the NFL also changed the rule regarding helmet-to-helmet contact. Players now cannot lower their head to hit another player regardless of the circumstance. The NFL implemented this rule in order to lower the risk of concussions and brain related injuries.
Lack of Raising Awareness
Although the NFL is involved with other social issues that are unfortunately prevalent such as relationship violence and preventing DUIs, the NFL does not want to bring awareness to the connection between CTE and the NFL.
Football is not the only sport that causes brain injuries. Studies have found that soccer also leads to chronic brain injuries. However, other leagues are doing more to raise awareness. The NWSL and the MLS hosted a joint weekend summit about brain awareness. The summit facilitated a conversation between researchers, athletes and medical staff so that athletes could be treated for their injuries in the best way possible.
It’s time the NFL does more to prevent brain injuries, and this could start by implementing a CSR program to teach healthy hitting habits to young football players. Children grow up seeing the most brutal hits getting replayed on TV and in highlight reels. This narrative needs to change.
By teaching kids healthy hitting patterns at a young age, years of potential brain trauma could be prevented. Money is not enough. Young athletes need activism to change their behaviors.
It’s time for the NFL to take the big hit and do something that will prevent these life-threatening injuries for generations to come.