Two weeks ago, when NFL executive vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller admitted a link between football and CTE, it seemed like the football world was now united in moving toward deal with that connection.
But this is the NFL, where player safety is a good distance down the priority list and change moves about as quickly as a Tom Brady scramble. And so several NFL owners are still resisting the football-CTE link despite capitulation from the league office.
In an interview with the Sports Business Journal at the league’s owners meetings, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay outright denied the CTE narrative.
“I can’t say I agree with that comment,” Irsay said last week of Miller’s CTE remark. “[To] say you know all of a sudden there is a suicide or a murder, and to say, ‘Oh, that is football,’ I mean, that is completely ludicrous. It’s just not true. There is so much we don’t know. Whether you are dealing with Alzheimer’s, whether dealing with contact sports with concussions that can come into play, you know, we don’t know enough about it.”
“I need to know more from the whole medical community that gets into brains and studies the exact effects,” he said. “And I don’t know enough about it [to the] extent that I understand you can have CTE and you don’t have any symptoms and you don’t have any effects. We don’t know enough about it. All I would agree with is if you ask me, you know, ‘Do you think football is risky? Do you think it causes injuries? Do you think, you know, you are risking your physical health somewhat when you get into this game?’ There is no question about that; there never has been.”
He also compared football to bobsledding and aspirin and said linking football to suicides is “dangerous.”
– “Look at it: When you get into Olympic bobsledding — I could sit down and name a dozen different sports — it has always been a known factor that you know you are going in there and you are taking a risk.”
– “I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are. Look at it. You take an aspirin, I take an aspirin, it might give you extreme side effects of illness and your body … may reject it, where I would be fine. So there is so much we don’t know.”
– “To try to tie football, like I said, to suicides or murders or what have you, I believe that is just so absurd as well and it is harmful to other diseases, harmful to things like … when you get into the use of steroids, when you get into substance abuse, you get into the illness of alcohol and addiction. It’s a shame that gets missed, because there [are] very deadly diseases there, for instance, like alcoholism and addiction. That gets pushed to the side and [a person] says, ‘Oh, no. Football.’ To me, that’s really absurd.”
While we’re at it, here’s San Francisco 49ers chairman John York citing the very people who say CTE is a major problem in making the argument that CTE may not be a major problem:
York, chairman of the health and safety advisory committee, said, “Obviously there has been CTE found in football players. Most of that work has been done at Boston University. Boston University has admitted that is a skewed sample. That doesn’t mean that their information isn’t correct, but they also said, ‘We don’t have enough information.’
“When you look at somebody like [hall of famer] Frank Gifford, who had a long full life and then is discovered at autopsy [to have CTE], what does that mean?” York said. “There are just too many questions. I am not trying to run from an answer. I just don’t know the answer.”
Giants owner John Mara denied that the league is in denial, before saying something that suggests the league might be in denial:
“The common theme has been, ‘Oh, they are in denial,’” he said of perceptions of the owners. “I mean, no one is in denial. We know there are issues, we know we have to deal with it.
“The science is in its infancy here,” Mara added. “We have a lot of work to do before we really have control of this thing.”
And Jets owner Woody Johnson basically said he can’t speak on the subject of CTE, then took a shot at the guy who had the nerve to echo the scientific consensus.
“I am not in a position. I am a layman. [Jeff Miller] is a layman as well,” said Jets owner Woody Johnson.
Look, there are still a lot of questions surrounding CTE. We don’t know how prevalent it is or who is predisposed to getting it. But no one in the medical community seems to question that the disease can be caused by football’s routine head-banging. Even Roger Goodell has acknowledged the connection.
Anyone trying to silence the CTE conversation is either dumb or self-interested in silencing the CTE conversation, and in this case it’s pretty clearly the latter. These owners aren’t actually concerned about the limitations of CTE research, they’re just trying to stall as long as possible before the dangers of their sport begin to threaten their bottom line.