Even High School Football Players Are Destroying Their Brains

The doctor who sliced open the late Mike Webster's brain and determined that football can cause severe and debilitating brain damage has discovered the same sort of neurodegenerative disease in high school players. Are you ready for some Congressional hearing?

Bennet Omalu is the doctor at West Virginia University who diagnosed Webster — and later fellow his NFL alums Terry Long and Andre Waters, both suicides — with what he calls chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Omalu was the subject of a lengthy GQ feature that found the NFL generously cribbing from the Philip Morris playbook. And now, according to Julian Bailes, chair of West Virginia's Department of Neurosurgery, Omalu has found CTE on the high school level. From a Q&A with GQ:

We're not just talking about NFL players. The congressional hearings are possibly looking into the effects of head trauma on college and high school players, too.
Shockingly, we have found this even at the high school level. Bennet Omalu has examined the brains of three high school players who died as a result of injuries they sustained from playing football. In the brain of one of the players, he found incipient CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE in a high school football player-the same sort of brain damage that led to the downfall of Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, and so many others?
Right. In a high school player. It gets back to the point you made in the GQ article: What is the NFL's responsibility for the greater good? The greater good, meaning all the young men and women who desire to participate in football and other contact sports, the ones who aspire at a young age to emulate the NFL and their players and are fueled by their advertising and the incessant bombardment of our society. What is their responsibility to the greater good? I don't know. They're going to have to answer that.

This comes on the heels of an NFL-commissioned study out of the University of Michigan that found abnormally high rates of cognitive decline among former players. On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee announced it would hold hearings "on the lasting impact of head injuries suffered by National Football League (NFL) players and the coverage they receive from their benefits plans and other matters." Congress last addressed the sport's brutality a century ago, and we got a governing body out of it that, for its many faults, at least succeeded in making the game safer. This is a public health matter now, and it even has a celebrity face: the woozy one belonging to Jesus Christ Football Star His Own Concussed Self.

UPDATE: Game Brain [GQ]