A top NFL official acknowledged for the first time a link between playing football and suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), responding, “the answer to that question is certainly yes” when asked if there is a link. It’s akin to tobacco companies finally admitting that nicotine is addictive and smoking leads to cancer, and comes years after virtually every independent observer concluded that playing football and suffering from CTE are related.
The historic concession was uttered by the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, Jeff Miller, during a U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy & Commerce roundtable discussion on concussions. The NFL has previously walked up to the precipice of such a statement, admitting in 2009 that “it’s quite obvious from the medical research that’s been done that concussions can lead to long-term problems. ”
In the intervening years, the work of Dr. Ann McKee at Boston University—who also attended the roundtable—has shown how widespread CTE is in certain former NFL players, and football players from all levels more generally.
It’s important to put Miller’s response in context, which he attempted to do after answering yes:
“I think the broader point, and the one that your question gets to, is what that necessarily means, and where do we go from here with that information,” Miller said, noting that little is known about the prevalence of the disease or the risk of incurring it.
CTE can currently only be diagnosed post-mortem, and those who have had their brains studied by Boston University are mostly a self-selecting population that already believed they suffered from football-related head trauma. There is still much more that we don’t know about CTE, and it is unknown how prevalent it is compared to the numerous other brain trauma-related illnesses NFL players can suffer from.
Miller’s admission is an important one, but doesn’t change the fact that bullshit helmets are being promoted as worthwhile safety devices, that an infamous quack is intimately involved in the league’s concussion program, and that the league is reportedly using its money and influence to shape head trauma research towards conclusions favorable to the league.
There’s still a long way to go.