It’s no secret that the NFL’s ratings have been plummeting this year. From fans protesting the Colin Kaepernick-inspired kneeling during the National Anthem, to people protesting the protest and protestors, many Americans are tuning out for NFL football.
While I certainly find the handling of the kneeling protests by both NFL owners and President Trump particularly disturbing, I’d much rather unpack on why I personally don’t watch anymore. I am finding it harder and harder to reconcile watching the NFL while they continue to ignore the serious health risks of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
I know, I know: Mr. UFC worrying about head trauma in football players seems a bit dubious. Please note, however, that I have been vocal about health and safety regulations regarding mixed-martial-arts as well. Earlier this year, NFL Hall of Fame lineman Warren Sapp detailed having memory loss issues and stated he would like his brain donated to science when he dies. He’s not the only one.
All we see as fans is what happens on the field, but everything that happens after is easy to turn a blind eye to. The case of Aaron Hernandez, who committed suicide while in prison for the murder of Odin Lloyd, was found to have one of the most severe cases of CTE ever recorded. Scientists noted that the disease was advanced to the extent that it mirrored subjects in their 60s with the same condition; Hernandez was 27.
All of the domestic abuse cases and off-field violence associated with NFL players has me leaning towards traumatic brain injury as the catalyst. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was recently asked if he would get tested for CTE, and stated that he would get tested, but it would not affect his decision to continue to play football regardless of the result. He also noted that as a quarterback, he isn’t getting hit in the head every play.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Dion Jordan said he did not wish to take the test, and believes that many other players would rather not take it either. Pittsburgh Steelers corner Artie Burns even went so far as to say he definitely has CTE. “Humans are not made to run into each other,” he said. He noted that the test would just be a formality at this point to tell him how much brain damage he actually has.
With all of this in mind — all of the stages of CTE on display in front of us — the before, during, and after-effects that remain highly visible in our high-profile athletes, the question looming at the back of our minds remains: should we let our kids play football?
Former Houston Texans back Arian Foster isn’t. While I have many great memories playing football all throughout my youth, I can’t help but wonder how all those knocks to the head as a child with a developing brain are going to affect me when I’m older. Scary, right?
The other day, I sent a friend of mine a video of NFL star Marshawn Lynch up to his usual antics on YouTube — acting erratic and saying off-the-cuff nonsense. My friend responded: “The poster child for CTE.”
That one hit me hard.