By Bob Carmichael
On July 27, 2022, the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF) announced breakthrough scientific research using unassailable Bradford Hill Criteria which conclusively proves that Repetitive Head Impacts (RHI) cause the degenerative brain disease CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). CTE is only diagnosed posthumously.
In 2016 the NFL, after a decade of denials, acknowledged a causal relationship between head impacts and CTE. The NFL estimates that 33% of its players will develop long-term cognitive problems. One in 3 players! Global sporting organizations such as FIFA, World Rugby, IOC, NHL, CFL and the NCAA have not publicly acknowledged this causal relationship. This new CLF study shows that participants in contact sports are 68 times more likely to develop CTE than those playing non-contact sports.
How many mothers and fathers will allow their children to play a game whose violent impacts result in life-altering orthopedic injuries and brain damage? Twenty-first-century science has now officially revealed that this pounding 19th-century game is wholly unsuited to the physiology of human brains.
This new study obliterates the often cited “mental health” issues that athletic departments and football apologists advance to cover up the obvious source of these human tragedies which is playing football.
The CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Chris Nowinski, who led the study, stated that, “Sport Governing bodies should not mislead the public on CTE causation while athletes die and families are destroyed by the terrible disease.” Since 2000 the NFL has invested more than 100 million dollars in promoting football. Fully aware of the existential crisis facing the game, the football industry has responded with slick television PSAs which beckon families and young players to “Play Football.”
The football industry would have you believe this game is a laudatory sport. How can football be “character building” when its essence is bigger, stronger, faster players blocking and tackling? These instant decelerations are cumulatively causing brain damage. What about the “new rules” that call for “Heads Up” safe tackling techniques? The fact is that the subconcussive impacts of football, head or no head, result in the brain traumatically ricocheting within the cranium. No “helmet technology” is going to change that fact.
The University of Colorado which lauds its statutory mission as a national public research university has never conducted a long-term, independent epidemiological study of its football players’ health and cognitive states. The university claims that there is no money for such a study despite spending $270 million on the recent stadium expansion which stands as a monument to the ritual of toxic masculinity.
Clearly, the major factor that is driving this violent sport is the millions of dollars that network television, ticket sales and promotions generate for the University of Colorado and its Athletic Department. Offensive and defensive coordinators are making high six-figure salaries and the head coach is paid over 3 million dollars a year. All this money hinges on players being replaceable pawns in an abusive system that offers no long-term medical support.
Around the nation, a steady decline in football participation is seen in youth and high school programs. Underserved young men fill the rosters for the entertainment of predominately white institutions. This is exploitation. At CU and other major universities, we now have semiprofessional football players signing medical waivers without understanding the lifelong devastation that the game causes.
Recently the LA Times ran a lengthy article on the sad state of the former USC team captain and running back Charles White. He is their all-time leading rusher and won the 1978 Heisman Trophy. Today, Charles White is 64 years old and confined to an assisted living home in Los Angeles while suffering from dementia for the last decade.
Here in Boulder, we have CU’s own Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam who won the award in 1994. In 2016, at the age of 41, he committed suicide in the parking lot of Eben G Fine Park. Salaam’s brain was not autopsied because he was Muslim. However his brother Jabali Alaji has publicly stated that Salaam suffered from neurological disease. In 2017, another prominent CU player, Drew Walhroos, committed suicide at age 37 by shooting himself in the chest. The autopsy results were not released to the public. In 2022 former CU and NFL player, Justin Bannan, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for an attempted murder conviction. Bannan pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity caused by the repetitive head impacts he sustained during his long football career.
The drumbeat of football’s road to perdition does not stop. Here in Colorado, we mourn the death of 33-year-old Demaryius Thomas who was diagnosed with Stage 2 CTE after he died in 2021. Like all these players, he did everything the game asked of him. The idea that football is a path to fame and fortune has been sold by football mythmakers. This is an illusion. There is only a 1.6% chance of success of playing on Sunday.
This new study warrants a serious review by the University of Colorado about its involvement with this unacceptably injurious game.
Bob Carmichael is a former CU football letterman and Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning producer and director. His film Football in America can be seen on the CLF website.