By Ken Reed

Boston University researchers recently said they have discovered a way to test for CTE in living patients.

If that news didn’t shake up NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s owners more than the national anthem protest issue, it certainly should have. It means the future of their sport is at stake.

It will take awhile until the new CTE test for living patients is fully developed and ready for the marketplace, but when the test is good to go it will cause immense problems for the game of football — at all levels.

Kevin Clark, writing for The Ringer, described those problems this way:

“This is about future players one day knowing at an early age — perhaps before their NFL careers begin —that they have a brain disease. What if colleges decide to test for CTE for liability purposes before players’ careers begin? If large numbers of players are diagnosed with CTE during their college football days (where the numbers suggest there’s already a problem), what will the fallout be? Will colleges prevent them from playing again for liability or ethical reasons? Will young people get discouraged from ever starting the sport? Participation in the sport is already down in youth football since the start of this decade. The ability to decipher when CTE begins will be a massive win for player safety—and a massive problem for the viability of the game.”

Consider the potential fallout for high school football: A couple lawsuits filed against high schools for offering a sport that leads to CTE in students could doom high school football. The insurance premiums will simply rise to a level at which football won’t be sustainable for school districts for economic reasons. Little league football organizations would similarly be in danger.

Following positive CTE tests (for themselves or their teammates), athletes at all levels of football, including the superstars, would undoubtedly start leaving the game in droves.

“You take the test and you find out that you already have CTE and that it could get even worse if you continue to take repeated blows to the head,” writes Clark. “You know that studies have linked longer careers to more severe cases of CTE. What do you do?”

The NFL, NCAA and other organizations are pushing, and funding, brain trauma research designed to find the magic technology for helmets that will prevent concussions and repetitive sub-concussive brain injuries. They are also exploring ways to better treat brain injuries once they occur.

But here’s football’s huge foundational problem: You can’t put a helmet on the brain inside of the skull. Modern football helmets are great for preventing skull fractures but they still don’t address the problem of a brain floating around inside the head and crashing against the side of the skull upon impact. That’s what causes concussions. In fact, concussions can occur without the head even being struck. They can result from blows to the chest leading to a whiplash effect on the neck, head, and brain inside the skull.

The bottom line is, full-contact tackle football is a collision sport that damages the human brain in much the same way boxing does. Boxing was once one of this country’s most popular sports …

CTE has already been found in 99% of the brains of deceased former NFL players in one study. If a new test reveals that a high percentage of active football players have CTE, it will be impossible for football to survive at its current level of participation and popularity.

“In order to survive, football must be thought of by fans and players alike as a game that people should play,” concludes Clark. “The sport is losing that battle at the moment, and if [this CTE test for the living] news leads to the clarity that it seems to promise, that outcome will only be more assured.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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