“The reality is that the game destroys people’s brains. Not everyone, but a substantial number. That’s the fundamental fact of football, and that to me is the biggest story in American sports.” – Bob Costos.
Just a few days after Costas made his comments, Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist who directs research of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, at Boston University presented findings that revealed unprecedented levels of damage in the brain of late New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Hernandez was convicted of murder and hanged himself in April while serving a life sentence in prison. He was 27 years old, and researchers said his brain showed damage typical of someone 20 years older.
Dr. McKee noted that she had never seen such severe damage in a brain younger than 46 years old.
The Hernandez case is problematic for the sport: why did a young man with wealth, fame and a potentially bright athletic career kill a friend and end up sentenced to life in prison?
“We can’t take the pathology and explain the behavior, but we can say collectively that individuals with CTE of this severity have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, aggression, often emotional volatility, and rage behavior,” said McKee as quoted by the Boston Globe.
The worrisome part of the findings is Hernandez’s young age. Is CTE more prevalent in younger athletes than previously thought, and is this related to earlier exposure to violent sports?
While players will tell you that they understand the risk, the question is do they really? Has the NFL and the NCAA been up front with what the dangers really are?