In 2015, the National Football League made over $13 billion. Which was more than the GDP of 75 different countries that same year. If the NFL were an independent nation, it would be in the top 2/3rds of richest countries by GDP, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.
But does all of that money and attention come at a cost? Absolutely. Although it’s not a cost that the owners, fans, or front office execs have to pay. Rather, it’s a cost that the players and their families pay when the game is over, the hits add up, and a man who was once a physical specimen is now diminished to a shell of his former self. The cost is called CTE, and it’s something Roger Goodell and the NFL would rather you didn’t know about.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease in the brain that occurs due to repetitive brain trauma. This trauma can be caused by both symptomatic concussions and asymptomatic subconcussive blows to the head.
Now almost 90 years after CTE was first discovered, Roger Goodell and many NFL owners still believe that hits like this:
Aren’t responsible for the degeneration of brain tissue later in life. Mind-boggling, myopic… another word that begins with M. But before we delve into the systematic evil of the NFL’s front office, let’s get a little sciencey.
How do hits to the head lead to CTE? Well, it’s believed that repetitive trauma to brain tissue causes an abnormal build-up of the tau protein. This protein normally serves to stabilize cellular structure in neurons, but in larger quantities it becomes defective and can cause major interference with the function of these neurons.
Changes to the brain can begin years or even decades after the last brain injury occurred. The resulting symptoms include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impaired impulse control, aggression, depression, and dementia. The symptoms are similar to other conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, so they can often be misdiagnosed.
Doctors at the Brain Injury Research Institute were the first to diagnose CTE in a pro football player back in 2002. Unfortunately, the condition can only be properly diagnosed in post-mortem examination of the brain, although researchers at UCLA believe they’ve found a way to diagnose living patients through identifying tau protein concentration in the brain. The NFL thanked the Brain Injury Research Institute by publicly attacking their claims that playing professional football can cause CTE, further solidifying their role as the evil American corporation in the next Michael Moore documentary.
Luckily, most Americans with any semblance of common sense were able to look at hits like this:
And think “hmmm… getting concussed a dozen times in a 20-year career might have negative health effects later in life.” The public was exposed to a perfect yet tragic example of this when, in 2012, Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide, shooting himself in the chest in order to preserve his brain for scientific study. Amidst the shock and sadness of his death, most of us started to realize that there might be a terrible consequence to the violence of this game we all love.
With all of the raw emotion and sense of loss that followed his death, the NFL stuck to their guns and in a heartless, robotically rule-oriented move, the Hall of Fame refused to let his daughter present for him when he was inducted. Citing a 5-year rule that "no one is allowed to present posthumously for a deceased inductee." Many critics of the NFL believe that no exception was made in Seau's case because the league had reason to believe his daughter would rail against the NFL and their lack of concern for player health. Their cold, calculated decision was all too appropriate for a league that fines players for wearing small, “unapproved,” tributes to parents who died of cancer, simply because it doesn’t fit their uniform policy, which apparently is what really matters.
At this point, I’m almost positive the PR team for the NFL is just a broken magic 8 ball that is stuck between “reply hazy, try again” and “don’t count on it.” It boggles my mind that an organization as successful as the National Football League is so short-sighted when it comes to their image, but maybe as long as they’re making money they just don’t care.
This year, NFL executive Jeff Miller became the first person from the NFL to admit that there is a connection between playing football and CTE. He did so in front of a congressional committee. Despite this, two weeks later the NFL attempted to reel back his statements and muddy the waters between professional football and progressive brain degeneration. If you ask me (you didn’t), all the NFL execs have to do is look in the mirror and they’ll see a perfect example of diminishing brain activity (BOOM. ROASTED).
But it goes beyond just straight up denial. It wouldn’t be quite as evil if the NFL just decided to blindfold themselves, cover their ears, and refuse to listen to outsiders yelling at them about CTE. Instead, the NFL conducted their own “all-encompassing study” of concussions from 1996 to 2001, in which they did not find a connection between pro football players and CTE.
The problem is that they omitted 100 diagnosed concussions from this study, more than 10% of the total. They chalked this up to the fact that “the clubs were not required to submit their data and not every club did.” No shit, the Dallas Cowboys did not submit any concussions for all 6 seasons, even though Troy Aikman sustained 4 concussions in that time-span that were listed on official NFL injury reports. In fact, Cowboy’s owner and lover of prostitutes, Jerry Jones, adamantly denies any connection between football and CTE. He’s joined in that sentiment by Colt’s owner Jim Irsay, whose drug-addled brain should be part of its own scientific study into how a man so moronic is able to own and operate a professional football team.
So the NFL admitted that some data was left out due to certain teams not submitting to the study. At least they were honest about it, right? Wrong. According to the New York Times, in confidential peer-reviewed documents, the committee wrote that “all NFL teams participated” and that “all players were therefore part of this study.” Peer reviewers were not convinced, as some teams did not report any concussions over multiple years, which one reviewer called “an unmistakable red flag.”
Over a dozen pages of back-and-forth between the NFL’s committee and the reviewers shows that some reviewers were clearly trying to stop the publication of this study. Despite this, the NFL brushed aside the criticism and went on to publish it anyways. This resulted in an even bigger wave of criticism once the paper went out to the public. Physicians brought in later to continue the research found that the study had “relied on faulty analysis.”
Despite sending out their A-team legal squad, in 2013 the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement in a lawsuit where retired players accused league officials of covering up the risks of concussions. On a somewhat brighter note, in recent years the NFL’s on-field concussion protocol and commitment to player safety has increased dramatically, mostly thanks to this lawsuit and public pressure asking the NFL to remove their heads from their collective asses.
But if we’re being honest it just seems like too little too late. I’m not going to stop watching the NFL, and I'm not saying you should either, but we should all at least be aware of where our money is going and how it’s being used. Just as you support your favorite team and players while they’re on the field, you should be supporting increases to their health benefits and player pensions once they hang up the cleats. Don’t forget the guys that put their health on the line for your entertainment, and don’t let the NFL forget them either.