• Sumo

By Ken Reed

As a football-loving country, we’ve collectively exhibited cultural avoidance behavior when it comes to the seriousness of brain trauma and CTE in sports like football and hockey.

This holds true for the players that love the game, including the adults playing in the NFL.

Most NFL players are at least somewhat familiar with CTE. But a majority of them haven’t studied it in any depth whatsoever. They haven’t reviewed all the relevant research regarding blows to the head and long-term brain health.

However, you can no longer count two-time pro bowl tight end Julius Thomas amongst the head-in-the-sand crowd.

Thomas has retired from the NFL to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, with a focus on the study of brain trauma. Thomas said his big interest is in “investigating the effects of contact sports on brain trauma and neurobehavioral performance” and will participate in research to “identify early warning signs of brain disease.”

“Truthfully, it (brain disease) wasn’t something openly discussed a lot while I was playing,” said Thomas.

“There were offhand references, but for the most part, it was something we knew we were at risk for but had no idea what the risk really was. That surprised a lot of people I spoke with. And what I quickly discovered is that there was a ton of brain trauma research that I was completely unaware of, but also a ton of research that still needed to be conducted.

“In those moments I started to feel aligned, to feel a sort of calling to study brain trauma. It just sort of fit. I knew I wanted to help and knew that this would be a great way to help football players, to be that person who could help them understand what we all are at risk of. I felt inside that this was stuff I needed to understand.”

Moving along the change continuum — awareness, understanding, attitude change, behavior change — can be a long process. But it starts with awareness and understanding.

It’s good news that Julian Thomas is going to be helping in those areas.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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