By John Kanelis
When you put a large athlete who weighs something north of 300 pounds into what amounts to a suit of armor -- and then tell that athlete to run full-speed into another athlete carrying a football -- you can expect that some damage is going to occur to one or both of those young men.
"Frontline" has just reported findings from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University about the brain health of former professional football players. They are staggering.
Eighty-seven out of 91 former National Football League players have tested positive for brain disease related to concussions suffered on the field of competition.
"Frontline" broadcast a landmark documentary this past year, "League of Denial," which chronicled the concussions being inflicted on NFL players and the effect those concussions were having on the players' long-term brain health. ESPN had been a partner with "Frontline" and PBS, but backed out before the documentary was broadcast. "Frontline" proceeded and the program aired to rave reviews.
The findings released by Boston University and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reveal a direct correlation between the extreme hits suffered on the field and the brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
"League of Denial" told the story of several players, but perhaps the most heartbreaking tale told of the struggle and death of Mike Webster, a pro football Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose life spiraled into misery caused by the CTE he suffered while playing professional football.
Webster is not alone, according to the study. As "Frontline" reports: Forty percent of those who tested positive were the offensive and defensive linemen who come into contact with one another on every play of a game, according to numbers shared by the brain bank with 'Frontline.' That finding supports past research suggesting that it’s the repeat, more minor head trauma that occurs regularly in football that may pose the greatest risk to players, as opposed to just the sometimes violent collisions that cause concussions."
"Frontline" has posted "League of Denial" online; it's contained in the link attached to this blog post. It's gripping and heartbreaking.
The NFL said in response to the latest finding: "We are dedicated to making football safer and continue to take steps to protect players, including rule changes, advanced sideline technology, and expanded medical resources. We continue to make significant investments in independent research through our gifts to Boston University, the [National Institutes of Health] and other efforts to accelerate the science and understanding of these issues.”
But there's another part of this story. The NFL has been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the players and their families who have suffered from the CTE inflicted during these games.
And the injuries keep occurring.