In its first public admission yesterday, NFL’s Jeff Miller discussed candidly the link between football and brain disease in Washington, D.C. Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Rep. from Illinois, held a frank round-table discussion of The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy & Commerce with medical researchers and NFL officials.
Recent studies through Boston University have found that concussions lead to a degenerative brain disease similar to dementia, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and that it is prevalent in current research of football players from high school, college and professional ranks.
Dr. Ann McKee, chief neuropathologist of the ongoing study that analyzes the brains of deceased donors, reported yesterday the overwhelming numbers of diseased brains – 90 of the 94 NFL players who donated their brain to be researched after their death – that have tested positive to CTE
“I unequivocally think there’s a link between playing football and CTE,” she said to the committee. “We’ve seen it in 90 out of 94 NFL players whose brains we’ve examined, we’ve found it in 45 out of 55 college players and six out of 26 high school players.”
She went further: “No, I don’t think this represents how common this disease is in the living population, but the fact that over five years I’ve been able to accumulate this number of cases in football players, it cannot be rare. In fact, I think we are going to be surprised at how common it is.”
When Rep Schakowsky asked Jeff Miller of the NFL a straight question, she got a straight answer.”Do you think there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE?” Replied Miller for the NFL: “The answer to that question is Yes.”
He referred to 95% of the retired NFL players whose brains were found after death to be in various stages of CTE in the work at Boston University.
The admission yesterday contradicts statements from the NFL that were made in the run-up to this year’s Super Bowl. Dr. Mitchel Berger, a neurosurgeon and member of the NFL’s Head, Neck & Spine Committee, claimed then that there was no link between football and degenerative brain disease.
The movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu was released Christmas Day, 2015 in the US, and it detailed the discovery of CTE in an autopsy of Mike Webster. Since then, medical research has discovered physical effects similar to dementia pugilistica – the term for the punch-drunk boxer dating back to the 1920s.
NFL lawyers settled a class action lawsuit last year for $765 million for players. Further lawsuits are now on hold.
NFL star Frank Gifford was identified with CTE after his death, according to his family announcement at Thanksgiving last year. Frank left pro-ball shortly after taking a hit to the head that left him unconscious and immobile for over a week. He later went on to a second career announcing Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell.
Chris Borland, a promising linebacker, famously retired from the NFL after his rookie season and returned most of his signing bonus last March. Borland said that the cost is not worth the reward. He walked away from a lucrative NFL contract, choosing health over wealth after so many reports of effects of traumatic brain injury. Some ripple effects such as No-Tackle Football are taking hold where communities are looking to prevent head injuries.