Nowinski, the executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and co-founder of the Boston University CTE program, said of a league official’s comment Monday: “It’s about 10 years late, but it’s about time.”
For the first time, a senior NFL official has publicly acknowledged the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease known as CTE.
According to ESPN, the NFL’s top health and safety officer, Jeff Miller, acknowledged the link during a roundtable discussion on concussions organized by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Less than an hour after news broke, Chris Nowinski, the executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and co-founder of the Boston University CTE program, declared, “This is going to have a huge effect.”
“It’s about 10 years late,” Nowinski said, “but it’s about time.”
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It was less than two months ago, in San Francisco, that Nowinski made national news by criticizing the NFL at the league’s health and safety update three days before the Super Bowl. Nowinski’s biggest complaint: That Dr. Mitchel Berger, part of the league’s head, neck and spine committee, had downplayed the link between football and CTE.
On Monday, Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety, was asked directly by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., if there is a link between football and CTE.
“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” Miller said. He added, according to ESPN, “I think the broader point, and the one that your question gets to, is what this necessarily means and where do we go from here with that information.”
According to ESPN, Miller said he based his answer on the work of Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist who has diagnosed numerous former players with CTE, including former Seahawks center Grant Feasel.
Before Miller’s statements, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL had not directly acknowledged a link between playing football and CTE.
For Nowinski, the news hadn’t really sunk in Monday, but he explained what this could mean:
Question: What are the implications?
Answer: This is going to have tremendous implications in the legal sphere and with all the people in the football community who have been holding out, saying that it was something else, that it wasn’t brain trauma that caused CTE.
Q: What are the medical, scientific or legal implications?
A: I’m already getting texts from players involved in the (concussion) lawsuit (with the NFL) asking me if this will change the lawsuit settlement. Honestly, I don’t know the answer. But that’s an interesting question. Medically, hopefully the whole medical community can move on. If the NFL is convinced there’s a link, and the (National Institutes of Health) is convinced there’s a link, and the Department of Defense is convinced there’s a link, and by the way, we, who are doing the work, also agree that there is a clear link that could not be anything else but brain trauma. So hopefully we can move on and start dealing with CTE as we should, as a massive public-health problem, a terrible disease and one that is entirely preventable because most athletes are participating voluntarily and banging their heads a thousand times.
Q: Do you think this has a ripple effect on current players? A few years ago, you said you hadn’t heard from a lot of current players because you thought they didn’t want to lose their edge by thinking too much about this. Does this open up the door for current players to be more involved?
A: It could start a new day. While there’s Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, we could have CTE awareness month in November as we work to develop a cure for the disease that some of these players on the field will develop. That would be a bit of a downer, but the players have to become aligned behind this issue and understand that there has simply been very little focus on diagnosing and treating CTE.
For me, I think the greater discussion will be public health. What we do with kids tomorrow? I can’t tell you how many youth football coaches I’ve spoken to who said that part of the reason why they’re still comfortable coaching 6-year-olds who are getting hit in the head 300 times is because they don’t believe there’s a link, and the NFL told them so. Now, I think every youth coach tomorrow has to think, “Well, geez, if there is a link between CTE and football, I could be giving these children CTE. I need to step back and think whether youth football is appropriate.” This is the same day that the study just came out saying that youth tackle football participation was up last year. Football doesn’t have to go away. Professional football, with the NFL Players Association negotiating the terms of the game and with an enlightened understanding of CTE, is ethically fine. But we should have to consider doing the same thing with 6-year-olds.