In recent months, the National Football League has spent tens of millions of dollars on brain-injury studies, research on new forms of brain imaging, and ads touting its own commitment to guarding against brain injuries. But it seems less concerned about leveling with its players and former players.
The New York Times recently reported that an unnamed doctor on the NFL’s head, neck, and spine committee tried to water down a workplace safety fact sheet prepared by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The doctor sought to remove references to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative neurological disease found in the brains of many deceased football players. The doctor said he wanted to strike CTE because it is not yet fully understood and not listed on death certificates.
That was a cynical explanation. While CTE, which is similar to Alzheimer’s, cannot yet be detected in living people, brain scans show it has played a role in the dementia and premature deaths of many former players. NFL stars, college players, and even high school kids and their parents should study the evidence. Simply trusting the leagues to do what’s right isn’t wise.
To its credit, the safety and health institute did not delete CTE from its warnings and eventually sent the fact sheet out to retired players. After all the seemingly sincere steps taken by the NFL to learn more about the link between football and brain injuries, this furtive attempt to cloud the issue hurts the league’s credibility.