“You have CTE.”

Obviously, we’re a long way from a five-subject study to a definitive diagnosis, but I do wonder if Ta-Nehisi Coates is accurately seeing football’s future:

… There’s something more; presumably, if they really learn how to diagnose this, they will be able to say exactly how common it is for football players–and maybe athletes at large–to develop CTE.  This is when you start thinking about football and an existential crisis. I don’t know what the adults will do. But you tell a parent that their kid has a five percent chance of developing crippling brain damage through playing a sport, and you will see the end of Pop Warner and probably the end of high school football. Colleges would likely follow.

There’s a part of me that’s skeptical.  But that part will never sit in a doctor’s office with my child being told that a risk of serious brain injury has been diagnosed.  Nor has that part ever been a member of a family that sees a college football career as a means – maybe the only one – to a child getting a degree at least and perhaps to going on to a NFL paycheck.

If this study bears fruit, I suspect that before you’d see football’s death, you’d see an attempt made to take concrete steps to improve player safety, both with equipment changes and with rules changes.  Whether those would work would depend on how good technology would get, how serious the NCAA would be about enforcement – and how fan support would be affected by the changes.  Tough calls all around.

31 Comments

Filed under Science Marches Onward, The Body Is A Temple

31 responses to ““You have CTE.”

  1. I guess he may have a point, but it’s hard for me to take a race baiting blowhard like Coates seriously about anything.

  2. Go Dawgs!

    This depresses me. I really love football. And I really love our players. I hope that instead of ending the game they can instead find a way to fix the game.

    The players are going to have to be willing to be led in that direction, though. The Marvin Harrisons of the world are going to have to drop the machismo.

  3. AthensHomerDawg

    Concussions do not discriminate.

  4. Dawgfan Will

    My wife and I had to make this call with our six-year-old this year. He wanted to play Pop Warner. She didn’t want him to. I was fine either way; of course I had had visions of watching him play between the hedges, but I had also read enough recently about concussions that I was also fine with visions of watching him play trumpet between the hedges instead.

    He solved the situation for us, though. Football conflicted with soccer, and he wanted to play soccer more.

    • My son wants to play Pop Warner next year. My wife is against it. She is not alone. Many Moms in her circle feel the same way.

      They believe the risks are too high versus baseball or soccer. My counter argument is that I have anecdotal evidence of many kids that grew up playing soccer that now have bad knees. One kid we know blew out MCL in 10th grade playing soccer, then blew out the other one in 11th grade. A guy I work with played soccer during the entirety of his youth and now he hobbles around the office in pain complaining that he can’t find an orthopedist to replace his knees because he is only 30.

      Any sport has the potential to cause harm and unless you have concrete evidence that one sport is a greater risk than another then you are fooling yourself.

      I heard one idea of how to make football a much safer sport. Take away the pads and helmets. Sounds crazy but it sure would make people think about laying their entire weight behind a hit.

      • Krautdawg

        I’m a former pitcher, and nowadadys my right shoulder snaps, crackles and pops every time it rotates. So I literally feel what you’re saying.

        I’d still argue that soccer and the others have a different kind of risk than FB. Your friend with the bum knees and I can still make as good a living as everyone else. Someone with CET can’t, and they can be a danger to their caretakers.

        Also, when I was in HS & undergrad, I was _invincible_ (ask my father). The danger here is that we can tell the kids all we want about CET; they’re still going headhunting.

        But all this is just the risk I think one has to consider. Deciding’s a different matter. Especially when — and I feel for you here — you’re not just discussing it with your wife, but with the entire “moms circle.” Boys still need to be boys, and that group often doesn’t understand that. Best of luck to you and your son in figuring out what you’re going to do.

        • AthensHomerDawg

          Soccer is a great for young kids starting out with sports. Helps them with the coordination and conditioning. You are always moving and everyone gets to touch the ball. Swimming is great in the summer. It teaches a lot of discipline. Those early am practices are a grind. Every Dad has to deal their wife’s gal pals. It’s tricky but doable. Never disagree with them all at the same time. You are out numbered. Never let it become confrontational. I once asked my bride if raising our children was to be a community project or if it was something she and I could handle ourselves. She asked “What do you mean?” I responded “If I needed 4 women telling me how to raise our sons I would have moved to Utah.” She got a big laugh out of that and it kinda made my point about all the unsolicited advice we were getting. All part of raising kids I guess.

      • IndyDawg

        I’ve seen numerous concussions in high school soccer as well, including my own daughter sidelined for 3 weeks with a “very mild” concussion. One girl on my daughter’s team has never returned due to lingering effects a year later. This issue affects MANY sports but football is the highest profile.

        • Darrron Rovelll

          Which is why soccer coaching academies discourage coaches from teaching the skills for heading the ball until they get older.

          However, as you have noted, it does not take away that risk as kids get older and progress to a higher level of competition.

          I know that there are European studies researching links between soccer and brain injury too. I will be interested in hearing those results.

  5. WarD Eagle

    I played a lot of different sports and only had head injuries in two – soccer and football. I dallied in rugby, but it seemed to be a concussion machine, so I got out quickly.

    We’re likely going to steer our son toward individual sports like golf, tennis, swimming, and track – which both parents still participate in. If there’s a team sport on the horizon it will be soccer, baseball, or basketball.

    On the football side of things, i would like to see them take the helmets off, minimize the shoulder pads, and severely punish headshots (immediate ejection and 1 game suspension for the first offense, half season second offense, full season third offense). I think this would go a long way toward retraining tackling/playing styles without changing the nature of the game.

  6. 69Dawg

    +1 If the NCAA/NFL was serious there would be ejections. It was interesting to watch the Senior Bowl practice, they purnished players that false started by making them skip a rep. That meant the player had one less chance to show his stuff. Head shot ejection, pretty soon the player is going to get it. You can’t make it to the NFL if you are sitting on the bench.

  7. John Denver is full of shit

    There is padding on the inside of helmets…why not on the outside?
    I am sure they can still make helmets look awesome with some sort of padding on the outside.

    • DawgFanWill

      Check this helmet padding out. It’s already being used in some HS during practices. Not saying they would look great during a game but it’s a start.
      profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/05/21/new-device-could-help-limit-concussions-in-practice/

  8. Skeptic Dawg

    As a parent that is currently dealing with a child suffering from post concussion syndrome (lacrosse related), I certainly can speak to this issue. We all know that there is an inherent risk in every sport and certain sports carry a greater risk of injury than others. Concussions are no joke with kids (teenagers). If you were to tell me that football (and other contact sports) were not available to kids until a certain age, I would be fine with that. The problem that we face today is that physicians are simply not educated, nor prepared, to deal with concussions. It has only be within the past 5-10 years that a large number of studies have been conducted. As for pediatricians (a parents first stop along the recovery path), they have no clue. All of this to say that I would be in complete favor of no football in an effort to reduce brain injury.

  9. Dog in Fla

    @ Nate, January 23, 2013 at 8:03 AM:
    Coates is doing nothing more than passing along information from:

    “Gary W. Small, M.D., Vladimir Kepe, Ph.D., Prabha Siddarth, Ph.D., Linda M. Ercoli, Ph.D., David A. Merrill, M.D., Ph.D., Natacha Donoghue, B.A. Susan Y. Bookheimer, Ph.D., Jacqueline Martinez, M.S., Bennet Omalu, M.D., Julian Bailes, M.D., Jorge R. Barrio, Ph.D.”

    who are serving time at the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior (GWS, PS, LME, DAM, ND, SYB, JM), Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology (VK, JRB), the Center for Cognitive Neurosciences (SYB), and the UCLA Longevity Center (GWS, PS, LME, DAM) – all at the David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Psychology (SYB), the University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; the Department of Pathology, University of California, Davis, CA (BO); and the Department of Neurosurgery, NorthShore University Health System, Chicago, IL (JB),

    and Tom Junod:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/01/the-nfls-house-of-pain/267366/

  10. Russ

    Well, I have a daughter (and that’s it), so I don’t have to make this decision. However, I’d think long and hard before letting my son play football. I’d have to see how the coaches teach and how it’s run. I love the game, but the evidence to me is really starting to stack up that the current game is too dangerous. I think it can be fixed by rules and technology, but it’s not there yet.

    And I’m not at all against risk. I think risk is necessary and needed in life. But I’m also all for managing risk how I see fit. Others should be free to decide for themselves.

  11. 4.0 Point Stance

    Here’s my question. At this point it is clear that football creates tau proteins, which are a known marker for CTE. Let’s assume that this 5 person study is accurate, and literally 100% of football players have tau protein.

    100% of football players aren’t brain damaged. Even at age 80. So maybe the link between tau protein and brain damage isn’t as clear cut as Coates seems to assume; perhaps it is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

    And here’s what I find really baffling. For all the anecdotal evidence we have, there is, to my knowledge, no evidence that on a population-wide level ex-football players are more likely to commit suicide or become senile as opposed to other males in their own age cohort. From what I’ve read, ex NFL actually have longer average lifespans than either the control group or ex-MLB players. I just don’t know what to believe.

    That being said, I think Coates’ conclusion is wrong. Football is here to stay. The rules will change. But they always have. Eventually, I expect to go back to leather helmets or, my preferred outcome, to mandate a 2 point stance (ironic, eh?) Without a hand in the dirt, the players’ heads will no longer be pointing at each other, and helmet-to-helmet contact will be lessened significantly. There will still be big hits and concussion, but far less down-to-down “minor” head trauma. And I suspect that it is this constant subacute battering causes far more damage *in the long run*.

    • AlphaDawg

      I agree completly. I’ve spent 16 total years in the USMC with a 5 year break between my 1st enlistment and my return. I have personally served with approx 2000 Marines all but one(my current) of the units were infantry. In that time have had 5 commit suicide, of those 5 only 3 were combat vets. I’d love to see some comparison of life spans, early dementia, Alizemers(sp), and mental illness between regular joe’s and NFL players. I bet theres not much of a difference. I know these guys put their bodys through the ringer, and I know their long term health(knees, hips and shoulder) will be impacted, but i’m not sold on the repeated head trauma leading to demetia/suicide. Correlation does not lead to causation.

      • Skeptic Dawg

        And that is the major problem right now. As I mentioned earlier, there simply are not enough long term studies to prove either way. However, the initial results tend to lean towards major issues such as dementia, major depression, loss of congnitive reasoning, Alzheimer’s etc. As a parent dealing with their child’s concussion issues (girls lacrosse not football), I can confirm that it is no walk in the park. I am pretty sure that after dealing with my daughter’s concussion issues, the wife and I will be extremely leary of letting our son play football anytime soon. Why risk it when they can learn the same life lessons in a less harmful sport (I understand there is a risk in any and all sport). Just my point of view.

        • AlphaDawg

          I understand you POV, i’m just skeptical that some of these people want to blame a sport when the same issues affect those who never played or never played past HS. One would think professional boxers would have a higher rate of these issue too, but you never hear about them. I guess my point is; these issues have come to light recently at the same time as the large lawsuit of ex-players against the NFL, and everyone you hear on the radio(ex-players mostly) talk like its a forgone conclusion that these hits to the head led to the Dementia/suicide, etc.

          I’ve heard one contrasting view point a few months ago from a researcher. I think it was referenced by someone above, and that researcher found that by and large there are no more suicides/dementia/Alzimers, etc with ex-football players than there was in the general population for males/same age group etc.

          I personally think the suicide thing has more to do with preparing these players for life post football, whether its financial planning or planning for a secondary career.

  12. WF dawg

    I want two things for my son when it comes to this topic: to learn to be a man and to do it with reasonable expectation of safety. Sports–especially highly physical, competitive, team ones–teach some things that are important to manhood, traits that I don’t expect my wife, as a woman, to have or even to fully appreciate why my son must have them. But if a particular sport proved to teach those lessons only at the cost of an unacceptable level of risk for serious brain injury, then a parent is justified in removing his child from it. I recognize that was constitutes an ‘unacceptable level of risk’ may differ from parent to parent and depend on a number of factors, including the physical development of the child, the safety training he receives, and the quality of the safety equipment used.

    • AthensHomerDawg

      Most of what it takes for your son to be a man will come through you. You might be surprised about how much your bride appreciates the whole be a man vibe. She married you for something else besides your good looks and career potential, I promise you.

      • WarD Eagle

        Seconded. I can’t imagine that I developed anything from the majority of dipsh*t coaches who told me how would build “intestinal fortitude” and make a man of me.

        Most of my football coaches between pee-wee & college were borderline losers who thought much more of themselves than anyone else did.

        • Dog in Fla

          Does the borderline loser category include those with borderline personality disorders or is that a separate category?

          • WarD Eagle

            Other than one semi-narcissist, None of my coaches entered that territory. They were just generally underachievers. The majority of them played some sport in college and walked away with a PE or similar degree.

  13. Nashville West Dawg

    It’s really simple physics. Force = mass x acceleration. We can’t reduce the mass of the players but we can slow them down. If we get rid of cleats and put everyone in Keds-type shoes the acceleration will be reduced significantly. It will not change the game nearly as much as these stupid rules changes we have now. All of the players will have the same relative speed, just less actual speed. In addition, it will reduce knee and ankle injuries.

    Nike and Addidas will hate it until they figure out that everyone will have to buy all new shoes. They are certainly creative enough to figure out how to charge $200 for a fancy pair of Keds.

    PS- When I was a kid I played in a tackle league that banned cleats. Fewer knee and ankle injuries and a lot of us went on to play college football at some level.