Evan Macy: Is NFL still in CTE denial?

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There is a recognizable human trait when it comes to accepting information into your psyche that opposes core beliefs.

Sometimes it takes a long time for a person to accept new facts and rearrange their way of thinking.

This week’s news that 110 of 111 brains studied of former NFL players showed signs of CTE — a degenerative brain disease obtained from continual blows to the head (aka: playing football) — was alarming. Of 202 total brains studied, 90 percent of them showed signs of the disease, from high school through college and the pros. As many know, this disease can lead to a much-shortened and depreciated life.

The Eagles expect their full team to report to training camp Thursday and as veterans like Chris Long and Brandon Brooks prepare to suit up and practice, they can’t help but feel the impact as they took to twitter.

Brooks is a more ceberal player, one who has struggled with mental illness — anxiety — issues and even missed playing time because of it. There’s no doubt several other players all across the NFL felt likewise upon learning what most football players and fans already suspected to be true.

But there appears to be an entire camp of players and coaches who minimize the risk in their minds. One is Frank Reich, the Eagles offensive coordinator and one of the most famous back up quarterbacks in NFL history. Aside from a hamstring injury in 1996, Reich has never missed time due to injury and could be one of the few lucky ones. But it was alarming to hear him talk about the recent CTE report after an Eagles practice Wednesday.

“I think all the studies done on that stuff are good for anybody involved in the sport at any level,” Reich said. “Obviously, you embrace things that are going to help people’s health over the long run. I’m not educated enough to know if that’s a good sample size or who that sample size is, but I think it’s progress in the right direction.”

That first response sounds like a political answer, one from a coach looking not to get into trouble. And in his defense, clearly Reich is no scientist. But what followed was the scary part.

“There are a lot of things people could perceive from the information,” Reich said, seemingly minimizing the report to sheer heresay. “Sometimes when there is limited information — that happens in every line of business. Information gets put out there. There are misperceptions. People will oftentimes overreact. But in this case it’s a serious issue, and we’ll just have to see what conclusions they come to over the long-term.”

Just waiting to see what happens is leading to more and more cases of CTE. And the information has been as conclusive as day and night in study after study. I am not here to suggest football should take any drastic-sport changing measures to save players’ lives (simply making changes to how concussions are diagonsed is not enough) — clearly the players have enough information to consent to playing the game that has an almost guaranteed rate of brain injury — but continuing to set aside factual information meant to preserve longevity and quality of life for hundreds of young people is not what a coach, a leader of men should be doing.

It is not Reich’s fault that there is a systematic problem in the NFL when people in control deny scientific evidence. The NFL is not interested in discussing their role in causing the slow demise of the talented foot soldiers making billions of dollars for their corporate entity at the risk of life and death. One thing appears to be certain about football the more time passes: it is no longer a question of if a football player will injury his brain — it’s a matter of how badly.

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