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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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