What if someone paid you huge sums of money to be hit by a Mack truck? And then, after you suffered the expected consequences, paid you another huge sum of money to do it all over again and again?
While you could justifiably blame yourself for your injuries – after all, no one forced you to do it – there’s also some responsibility to be borne by those offering the huge sums of money.
Perhaps that’s why there is such vigorous debate over the long-term effects of concussions suffered by football players. Repeated blows to the head are believed to cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a crippling brain disease.
Last summer, the National Football League agreed to pay nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in compensation following allegations by former players that the league concealed the long-term dangers of concussions and rushed injured players back onto the field even as it profited from the controlled violence.
The money will compensate retired players with moderate to severe neurological conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s. It will also fund research into the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of concussions.
Most researchers believe that CTE can be diagnosed only posthumously by analyzing brain tissue. CTE has been found in the brains of many deceased former NFL players.
A new test for living retired players received a burst of publicity in November when pro football Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure, a former Bill, and others said they had been diagnosed with signs of CTE. However, as reported in the New York Times, experts are questioning the validity of the test developed by researchers at UCLA.
This is not welcome news for the former players. Instead of receiving a definitive diagnosis and access to medical benefits, the new test is likely to subject them to undue worry or false hopes.
Nor is it welcome news for those who could profit from a test that can be given to patients while they are alive. This includes lawyers interested in suing well-heeled owners as well as medical professionals prepared to treat CTE victims.
While testing for CTE in living players may be in scientific question, no one can dispute the fact that these men have experienced more than their share of all kinds of injuries while engaged in their gladiator sport.
Sports can be dangerous, some much more so than others. A proven test for CTE will help participants determine whether the risks are worth the rewards. If the answer is yes, then we have to figure a way to better protect the participants.