Despite a study that more than 99 percent of donated brains of former NFL players had the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, don’t expect fans to stop watching the nation’s most popular league.
The number should have been startling, but we’ve become so immune to these findings that it grazed off us like a wayward fly.
The results should have been horrifying, but we’ve developed a certain numbness to these studies whether we like it or not.
Tuesday, an article published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that, of the 111 former NFL players’ brains studied by a neuropathologist, 110 were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That’s more than 99 percent.
And here’s guessing less than 1 percent of NFL fans will actually care.
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CTE has become one of the football world’s chief talking points over the past few years. Well, at least it has on days like Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.
The degenerative disease linked to depression, chronic headaches and cognitive dysfunction has sparked lawsuits, movies and widespread investigations. But it certainly hasn’t done much to affect TV viewership or participation.
Sure, some might point to the NFL’s declining TV ratings last year and argue that some of America finally understands these are modern-day gladiators. But the Nielsen dips were far more likely the result of the presidential election and lack of compelling matchups.
Remember what happened when the Seahawks met the Patriots on Nov. 13? NBC drew its largest Sunday Night Football audience in five years.
Youth participation hasn’t plunged, either. In 2015, the same year Will Smith starred in “Concussion,” 1.23 million kids ages 6-12 played tackle football — up from 1.216 million the year before.
Yes, it’s worth noting that the uptick in youth flag-football participation was much higher — possibly pointing to safety concerns — but the idea that the sport is on the downslope lacks concrete evidence.
It’s also worth noting that the numbers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association are subject to scrutiny. These were brains donated to science, meaning most of the donors likely suspected their loved ones were afflicted with CTE. Take a more random sample and the results would differ.
But still … 99 percent???
You can quibble with the sample size all you want, but you can’t dispute there is an alarming link between football and CTE. And even if there was a more all-encompassing study showing more conclusive results, would it really matter?
As long as football players are the kings of their campuses, they are going to play. And as long as there are fantasy leagues, RedZone channels, and tailgating, people are going to watch.
But couldn’t football be like cigarettes? It took awhile, but the more research that emerged, the more the industry suffered.
True, but there are no scholarships for lighting up a Marlboro. You don’t see 100,000 fans cheering when a guy finishes his second pack. And you definitely don’t have tens of millions of people betting on which brand a smoker might buy.
But what about boxing?The detrimental health effects in the Sweet Science have been known for decades, and that sport is on the incessant decline.
Yes, boxing isn’t close to where it used to be, but it’s doubtful that it’s because of safety concerns. It’s more because it’s a corruption-filled train wreck that lacks American stars or truly charismatic figures.
If anything, the emergence of MMA has proven Americans still gravitate toward combat. Plus, if there is a “super fight” in the boxing ring, pay-per-view buys still skyrocket.
Look, this isn’t necessarily a condemnation on our love affair with the pigskin. I left a paradise of a market for Seattle because I wanted to be sure there was an NFL team to cover.
But at some point, you have to wonder: When will the data related to brain injuries truly change the sport? Because even with all the rule changes, the sub-concussive hits and constant collisions are going to leave the next generation with similar trauma.
Will it matter as far as the NFL’s popularity goes? Doubtful.
Studies are going to keep coming from every direction. But football isn’t going anywhere.