Plague of CTE threatens the future of football

Illustration by Raya Deussen

A common football injury called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has changed the sport forever. It should not be a surprise when NFL players retire early anymore. At the age of 24, Joshua Perry, an Ohio State star, retired from the NFL after his sixth concussion after just two seasons. Perry was a former NFL linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers. Two seasons is relatively short for an NFL career, but according to Perry, “(his) well-being is more important.” Perry hung up his helmet and walked away from multi-million dollar contracts because the risk associated with CTE and football have players reconsidering their time in the NFL. Perry was not the first player to walk away from the NFL and he certainly will not be the last.

The most recent example of a top tier NFL athlete retiring is former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck shocked the NFL when he announced his retirement at the age of 29 and has described himself as “mentally worn down.” As the former first overall draft pick in 2012, Luck has suffered a variety of injuries in his career, and the physical toll on him through six NFL seasons has been significant. Luck tore the cartilage in two ribs, partially tore his abdomen, lacerated a kidney, had at least one concussion, tore his labrum and had calf and ankle issues. Facing all of this, it is understandable why Luck retired. Health issues, both physical and mental, like CTE, have players rethinking their time in the NFL. 

CTE has revealed the long term risk associated with football. The disease causes a variety of symptoms, including memory loss, depression and dementia. CTE is a disease caused by repeated high-velocity impacts to the head. These types of impacts happen frequently throughout the game of football and have players reconsidering the risk. Overall health and quality of life after football has become so valuable to players that retiring or not participating in the first place has become a better option.

The most dangerous parts of playing football are unseen injuries sustained through repeated hits to the head throughout the game. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “The only known risk factor for CTE is repetitive head impacts like those experienced in many contact sports.” 

Unfortunately, CTE cannot be diagnosed until after death. There is no known way to detect or prevent CTE other than to reduce or eliminate hits to the head. Football is now seen by many as destructive to overall health, causing players to retire or not participate in the sport to lower their risk of developing CTE. 

Research conducted by Boston University on the brains of 111 former deceased NFL players found evidence of CTE in 110 samples. This research clearly shows that there is a relation between football and the development of CTE.

Change needs to happen to lower the risk associated with football. Otherwise, the game of football will cease to exist. Football is the most popular sport to watch in America and people do not want to see it eliminated. More than half of Americans identify as fans of the NFL, college football or both. Although football is a physical sport where every play has contact, changes need to happen in how the game is played. Safety and protection needs to be a top priority.

Change happens when people advocate for themselves. In this case, players of the NFL need to advocate for themselves and their personal safety. It is up to the players to play or not. Players decide, and if the game of football is to survive, the game must adapt to reduce player risk.

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