The scary reality of CTE in contact sports


Putting a spotlight on concussions in sport.

CTE, scientifically known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease commonly found in contact sports because of repeated head trauma. Main symptoms of CTE include: impulsive behavior, suicidal thoughts, emotional instability, irritability, memory loss (both short and long term), task fulfillment difficulties and vision problems among others. The 2015 film Concussion, brought this disease to the forefront of media attention. The movie centers around forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu and his research into validating the link between CTE and the National Football League.

As a multibillion dollar oligopoly, the NFL has as succinct ‘professionalism’ embedded as a moniker that essentially puts business first and the players’ well-being second. Therefore, the CTE information is damaging to the brand of the league, as the quest for immense profit outweighs the importance of the athletes’ safety.

Recently, an American Medical Association Journal study has revealed that out of 111 NFL players’ brains tested, 110 had cases of CTE. This is a startling fact, one that questions the necessity of violent hits in football. With the human brain’s development not reaching its climax until age 24-25, these repeated hits to the head at a young age are troublesome, to say the least. Especially when CTE has been found in brains as young as 17.

Boston University has recently made a breakthrough into developing a method that could help diagnose CTE in living patients. CTE before could only be diagnosed in deceased individuals, as direct brain tissue has to be examined. Recent findings for living patients’ diagnoses would be a gargantuan step in the right direction for not only player safety, but for hopeful ubiquitous agreement on the seismic link between the two. Of course, questions are still being asked, such as “how many years of contact sports is too much?,” “is there a genetic link with the disease?” and “do diet, steroids, drugs, play an impact?” However, if you had the opportunity to know that, for example, ‘after thirty hits to the head, you will see signs of CTE’, would you even play? The pursuit of high level athletic achievement should not coincide with having brain issues for years after your playing days.

The question begs to be asked: Is it worth it to even play football, knowing these risks of brain damage? Bennet Omalu states: “My son is 6. I wouldn’t let my six-year-old son near any football field. And if any coach asks my son to play football, I’ll sue that coach, and I’ll sue the school.” Recently, young players like Jake Locker (26), Chris Borland (24), Jason Worilds (27) and Anthony Davis (26) have retired from the league, citing health and the threat of brain damage as their main reasons. However, football has been irrevocably woven into the machoism of North American society. To completely eradicate the most profitable league in the world (13 billion dollars in revenue last year) because of these recent findings is obviously not a logical option.

While the majority of CTE research has centered around football, it is important to note that other contact sports such as mixed martial arts, boxing and professional hockey have all been linked to the disease. What’s abundantly clear is that scientific breakthrough has caused this issue to not be ignored anymore. Each league on every level must educate their athletes on the dangers of repeated head trauma. It is paramount for all young athletes playing contact sports to understand the consequences that these sports can invariably cause. The terms of ‘toughen up’ and ‘Get back out there, it was just a small hit’ should be replaced with learning opportunities about the disease and an emphasis on concussion rehabilitation. The first step as always, is learning. If everyone gets properly educated on this subject, and science’s progress continues CTE, then one can be confident that proper guidelines will be set in place for proper treatment after a hit to the head and a hopeful decrease or eradication of CTE.