Today we’ll all watch some of America’s best athletes damage their brains. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, after all.
Sure, WC knows the National Football League has put “Concussion Protocols” in place. Players who suffer an apparent concussion are made to sit out a while. But there are at least two things wrong with that “solution.” First, it does nothing to prevent subsequent head trauma, only that there isn’t immediate subsequent head trauma. Cumulative head trauma is what is implicated in Cumulative Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE. Second, the protocols presuppose that only concussions cause CTE. The evidence is pretty strong that cumulative asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause concussion-like symptoms can trigger CTE, too.
Medical science doesn’t understand why CTE and associated buildup of tau proteins in the brain occurs in some athletes and not others. Perhaps there is a genetic aspect. We don’t know.
What we do know is that cumulative brain trauma triggers a progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia.
Some readers will say it’s a choice that athlete make, trading wealth and fame for the risk of an early, miserable death. But the multi-million dollars contracts didn’t do Aaron Hernandez much good when he committed suicide while in prison for murder, at age 27.
WC is troubled by the racial aspects of football-induced CTE, too. Like boxing, it’s perceived as a way out of poverty for racial minorities. African-Americans make up 13.3% of the U.S. population. African-Americans make up 68% of active players in the NFL. CTE appears to be an equal opportunity degenerative condition.
For WC, it makes it hard to enjoy the game.
Your decision to watch or not is your own. But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re watching gifted athletes, among the best in our nation, damage their brains.