Differing opinions on the risks of playing football

While a neuropathologist father explains why he lets his child play American football, The Guardian considers the link between NFL and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

Both stories featured in the media last week. Dr Peter Cummings, assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine, wrote an essay for Yahoo! Sports and explained that he ‘may be the only neuropathologist on Earth who lets his kid play football’. Cummings previously banned football in his house, but his son’s interest in the game led him to ‘pour over medical journals and football rulebooks’. CTE, which Cumming summarises as ‘damage to the brain caused by repetitive injury’, was found in the brains of 99% of former National Football League (NFL) players examined. However, the neuropathologist argues that the media frenzy ignored the wealth of evidence that doubts the link between concussion and CTE. Cummings suggests that other mitigating factors may make some people more prone to developing CTE and that the sample of self-selecting footballers is biased. Cummings said: “We do not have a complete picture of what causes CTE, how common CTE is, or what the chance of getting CTE may be for anyone, or even what symptoms, if any, CTE causes.” The neuropathologist went on to examine other studies; consider how play has changed; look at concussions in other sports; and noted the gender discrepancies. Cummings also said he supports the ongoing CTE research and has directed other athletes to such studies, but that he decided to let his son play football. Meanwhile, a couple of days later, The Guardian announced that player Aaron Hernandez’s CTE diagnosis showed at that 27-years-old, with 44 career NFL games, Hernandez had the brain of a 67-year-old man.   On The Guardian’s NLF Sportblog, Les Carpenter wrote: “Science is only beginning to understand CTE. It’s going to take decades to assess how much the pounding of football helmets affects players’ brains. But enough is known now to say that dire measures need to be taken.” Carpenter wrote about changes in sport that have already taken place, such as stopping full-contact practices, what the NFL has done to date, and the fact that many steps need to be taken to reduce the risk of CTE.
Share page
Print page
Follow us