An on-going topic of debate in football is the impact the sport has on brain function. This is being discussed at all levels of football starting with youth leagues and going all the way up to the NFL. Concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are serious issues that deserve not only the public’s attention but also the undivided attention of the NFL. But what if I told you that the symptoms associated with CTE were also associated with the use of steroids?
CTE, as defined by the Boston University CTE Center, is a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” Everyone from ESPN to PBS has produced featured stories on not only how CTE has affected football players but also on how the NFL has allegedly covered up the findings in order to benefit its business model. The symptoms of CTE, based on the Boston University CTE Center, include “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.”
CTE has been blamed for the tragic events that led to the tragic stories of Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher, New York Giant Tyler Sash, Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling and San Diego Charger Junior Seau to name just a few. As a result of events such as these, many ex-NFL players have donated their brains to science and/or have retired from the NFL earlier than expected.
As is the case with any series of tragic events, society looks to cast blame on someone, or an entity, that is driven by greed. In the case of CTE, that entity is the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell. The charge against Goodell in the court of public opinion is that he, like his predecessors, chose to hide the impact of CTE from football players in order to maximize the profits of the NFL. Goodell found himself the subject of additional public outrage when he went on the record saying that he would encourage his son to play football.
Even with the substantiated proof of CTE, it should not be considered settled science that CTE is the primary factor involved in the tragedies of these current and former NFL players. Like Jason Whitlock and Danny Kanell, I too have my doubts about just how conclusive the science is that links CTE with these football tragedies.
The war on football is real. Not sure source but concussion alarmists are loving it. Liberal media loves it. Doesn’t matter. It’s real.
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) December 8, 2015
In his J. School blog, Whitlock approached an angle that I have long thought about in regards to the symptoms of CTE and brain function. Whitlock discusses the angle the media took with the steroid issue in baseball, but what if there was more to the use of steroids in football than the media reported and we knew?
There is a long list of side effects that are associated with the use of steroids. These side effects include aggressive behaviors and psychiatric disorders. Aggressive behaviors and psychiatric disorders are also two of the more highly publicized side effects of CTE. I am not saying that CTE is not a real issue for football players and I am also not saying that it isn’t a serious issue for football players. But what if Goodell and the NFL are correct when they argue that CTE is not to blame for tragedies such as Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau?
Former NFL player Eddie George believes that steroids do play a role in the off the field issues of some of the NFL players.
Considering the fact that CTE and steroid use share some of the same side effects, why then is the impact of CTE considered settled science in the NFL and why then is the NFL, under Goodell’s leadership, being presented as being nefarious in their attitude towards CTE? My belief is that this is more outrage from the social justice warrior (SJW) crowd.
Blaming CTE for the current and post-retirement issues that afflict football players is the easy way out. The SJW crowd loves a good villain more than they love personal responsibility. CTE provides the villain and it’s a villain that Hollywood could also rally around. And considering that the topic of CTE has been snatched by the SJW crowd, it also means that it is an argument that is ultimately debated on social media rather than in the science lab. Like facts, science doesn’t care about your feelings. Social media does care about your feelings and topics become settled science based in large part to who can scream the loudest.
When discussing CTE in the NFL, many seem to remove the role of personal responsibility from the argument. Some players seize their freedom of choice and choose to retire early based on what is known about CTE. I applaud these players and believe more players should acknowledge that the choice does exist. Nobody forces these adults to play football.
Now, if steroids do play a role in the tragic events attributed to CTE then I believe that personal choice plays an even greater factor in this debate. But if the tragic events that occurred with Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau had anything at all to do with steroids, well, that doesn’t make for good SJW outrage because there is nobody like Goodell to present in an evil way. It’s all about the individual player at that point.
If you want a more concrete example of what i’m presenting, all you need to do is look at the world of professional wrestling. Paul Farhi makes an interesting statement in that Washington Post article:
Professional wrestlers of (Ultimate) Warrior’s generation (he was 54) have experienced a mortality rate that would be considered a crisis and a scandal if it happened in some other context — say, to football players, racecar drivers or boxers.
Farhi is correct in his assertion that if there were this many deaths of football players under the age of 50 that the situation would be considered a crisis and a scandal. Farhi even uses Chris Benoit as an example of a tragedy that would not be as accepted if it had involved an NFL player.
Before taking his own life, Chris Benoit killed his wife and their 7-year-old son, yet unlike the similar chain of events that involved Jovan Belcher, CTE was not blamed for Benoit’s killing spree. What was suggested as the influencing factor behind the deaths were steroids.
Investigators found anabolic steroids in the house and want to know whether the muscle man nicknamed “The Canadian Crippler” was unhinged by the bodybuilding drugs, which can cause paranoia, depression and explosive outbursts known as “roid rage.”
We as a society owe it to everyone to slow down and to take a responsible, level-headed examination of all of the facts and possible reasons behind the growing list of tragedies involving football players. Maybe CTE is the driving factor behind this growing issue and maybe the NFL and Goodell are ignoring it in the name of profit. But just maybe the science isn’t settled and just maybe the SJWs should give the scientific community time to engage in responsible science.
Remember, like facts, responsible science doesn’t care about your feelings.
E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.
*Featured image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org