Weighing in On the CTE/Football Issue — Jerry Jones is Wrong

Posted: 03/22/2016 by levcohen in Football

For the longest time, I’ve avoided writing about the “potential” link between playing football and developing neurodegenerative diseases like CTE for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is still a very-much developing issue, and it seems a bit pointless to discuss it without a larger amount of data to examine. Secondly, I was very conflicted about the issue, (selfishly) thinking that increased safety precautions were taking away from the fun of the game. And thirdly and most simply, I just didn’t feel like I had anything to add.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’ve seen and heard three specific things that have actually made me angry and/or sad. First, I watched the ’85 Bears 30-for-30, in which ex-quarterback Jim McMahon discussed his early onset dementia. Now, one ex-QB developing a neurodegenerative disease doesn’t establish a link between the sport and disease, but it does drive home the potential damage the sport “might” do. Second, I listened to a Bill Simmons-hosted podcast featuring the one and only Jay Glazer, who, of course, equated an athlete’s CTE to a soldier’s PTSD and said that “any football player” had brain issues that led them to play football, not vice versa (face-palm). I can’t stand Glazer normally, but this was a new low. The last straw was what Jerry Jones said today. This, mind you, comes about a week after Jim Miller, the NFL’s senior VP for health and safety, said that there was “certainly” an established link between football and CTE. The man is getting paid by the NFL and still acknowledges the link between CTE and playing football. Anyway, here’s the venerable Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys:

“We don’t have that knowledge and background, and scientifically, so there’s no way in the world to say you have a relationship relative to anything here,” Jones said. “There’s no research. There’s no data. … We’re not disagreeing. We’re just basically saying the same thing. We’re doing a lot more. It’s the kind of thing that you want to work … to prevent injury.”

Pushed on whether he believes there is a link between CTE and playing football, Jones responded, “No, that’s absurd. There’s no data that in any way creates a knowledge. There’s no way that you could have made a comment that there is an association and some type of assertion. In most things, you have to back it up by studies. And in this particular case, we all know how medicine is. Medicine is evolving. I grew up being told that aspirin was not good. I’m told that one a day is good for you. … I’m saying that changed over the years as we’ve had more research and knowledge.

“So we are very supportive of the research. … We have for years been involved in trying to make it safer, safer as it pertains to head injury. We have millions of people that have played this game, have millions of people that are at various ages right now that have no issues at all. None at all. So that’s where we are. That didn’t alter at all what we’re doing about it. We’re gonna do everything we can to understand it better and make it safer.”

There is so much wrong with this quote that I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, there is data. In fact, there’s so much data that I didn’t even know which study to link to. Just look up “NFL CTE data” and find any article not about Jerry Jones. There’s a Hollywood movie staring Will Smith called “Concussion” about the first doctor who started compiling said data. Second of all, Jerry, no, a link between CTE and playing football is not “absurd.” In fact, the NFL has acknowledged the link. Need I say more? But what really irked me most was the fact that Jones says that the fact that “millions” of people have played the game and have no head issues now. I’m not going to quibble with the exact number or percentage of trauma-less players (most of whom, by the way, never got near the NFL), but this argument is like saying that millions of people went to or lived in Ebola-inflicted countries and didn’t get Ebola. Sure, maybe that’s true, but does that mean that those people aren’t in danger? Is that a reason to avoid protecting people from getting Ebola in the future? Of course not. And even if millions of people have avoided brain trauma, the fact that some haven’t avoided the issues should probably be more worrisome to Jones than it is. The combination of clear anecdotal evidence and blatant stupidity from people around the game have convinced me to take a more firm stance on the issue.

I said I was conflicted about rule changes improving player-safety in the NFL. I’m no longer conflicted. The argument from ex-players that they knew what they were getting into and would do it all again doesn’t ring true to me (none of this was a hot issue when ex-players were getting into football) but, more to the point, I wouldn’t care even if it were true. Ok, Jim McMahon, maybe you’d do it all again, but does that make it ok to endanger the sanity of thousands of other football players who might not feel the same way as you do? And do we have an obligation to, in some cases, protect players from themselves? The increased awareness is certainly a step in the right direction, and I think it’s already made an impact, as more and more kids are opting to play sports like soccer or basketball instead of football. I think it makes sense to lecture NFL-hopefuls time after time about the potential harms of playing a sport that features grown men running at full speed and driving each other into the ground. But unfortunately for football fans like myself, making the risks of the game clear isn’t enough. The NFL, with its new rule changes, is finally on the right track. The defenseless receiver and hit to the head or neck area penalties are really annoying, but they’re necessary. I love kickoffs, but in reality they’re the most dangerous plays in the game and should probably go. These changes have and will anger both fans and players who yearn for “the good old days,” but that’s how it always goes. Players and refs will adapt, and so will we, the fans. The sport will remain enjoyable for all parties. And if it doesn’t? So be it.

It’s important to remember that football is a game. A really awesome game, but still a game. And at the end of the day, I’d rather be on the “protect the players’ heads at all costs” side of the aisle than the “well there’s no 100% PROOF of a connection” or the “these rule changes make the game less fun” sides. When the NFL admits there’s a connection between brain disease and playing football, there’s probably a connection between brain disease and playing football. So name a way to clean up the game or protect players and particularly their heads, and I’ll support it. Does that mean football, with the absence of the bell-ringers that made the game popular, will slowly slip away into the abyss in the same way that boxing did? I hope and think not, but I’m not willing to risk the brains of future players to save the sport. Their knees? Well, that’s another story.

  1. David P Cohen says:


  2. quadrangular says:

    Right on!!

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