These days it seems chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE has become synonymous with the NFL. CTE is a degenerative brain disease often associated with repeated blows to the head. It’s a unique disease because it manifests itself differently than other injuries or diseases. The problems associated with it often arise years after the hits to the head, and when the symptoms start to appear they vary from person to person. Some individuals suffer from memory loss or dementia, others depression and confusion. But most importantly, we currently have no tests to diagnose CTE until the individual has passed away and their brain is examined. Furthermore, that only occurs when an individual donates their brain for research.CTE often comes up when talking about the NFL because recent research has shown that the NFL might be ground zero for the influx in CTE. A study issued by Boston University found that of the 111 former NFL players that donated their brains to CTE research, 110 of them suffered from CTE. Football players routinely experience significant hits to their bodies and heads as part of their jobs. The new focus on CTE has forced the NFL to change many of the game’s rules and begin development of more advanced and safer equipment for players.
In the past few months, the NFL’s relationship with CTE has caused a player to leave the NFL after just one season, stating that the long-term risks of playing football were not worth the paycheck. Now that player, Chris Borland, released a public service announcement denouncing the NFL for hiding the risks of brain damage as a result of the game. Further, recently it was announced that former Patriot player, Aaron Hernandez, suffered from CTE, prompting his family to file a suit against the NFL claiming they knew of the risks and did nothing. The lawsuit was dropped a month later but it is expected to resurface in a different court.
CTE is complicated and there is still a lot to learn about the disease but it does raise broader questions about how we handle cumulative trauma injuries. The NFL is being criticized about their handling of CTE as more and more players come forward with symptoms. The players were injured on the job and employers owe some responsibility to their employees, whether they are factory workers or quarterbacks, to keep them safe. So the CTE and NFL connection may be even more complicated than we know when you add in workers’ comp claims, safe workplace standards, and health insurance.