Aaron Hernandez, Ken Stabler, Chris Benoit, you name it. The notable “legends” of American football and wrestling. Though these three athletes differ in sports, they have one mutual commonality: they suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Experts have known about it for over a century, but sports fans have recently been cognizant.
According to the Mayo Clinic, CTE is the term used to describe brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas. Though a very exceptional condition, it has been increasingly found in the brains of athletes who play wrestling and other contact sports, but has been mostly found in the diseased brains of former National Football League (NFL) players. As these individuals build up a myriad of diagnosable concussions, they encounter critical mental conditions such as depression, dementia, and even irrational and erratic outbursts.
One example of an affected individual is Aaron Hernandez, diagnosed with one of the worst cases of CTE for someone in his age. Recognized as one of the NFL’s most dominant tight-end athletes, he was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010. Setting a record of five touchdowns for each season, his career was thriving more than ever. Though this might have been the pinnacle of Hernandez’s football career, it was when his life had started to fall.
During the 2013 offseason, he was arrested for the murder of Olin Lloyd, also a football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée. Then came along another conviction: a potential suspect for the double 2012 homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Months of repetitive trials and court appearances continued on. Eventually, after being acquitted of these manslaughters, he was found in his jail cell with his heart ceasing to beat. The cause of his demise was ruled as a suicide.
With CTE-related deaths occurring on and on, such inquiry comes into mind: Is there a solution for CTE? The fight to find a cure for CTE is on the way, but it has yet to be qualified. Unfortunately, as of right now, there is no known cure for the mental injury.
Despite all the protective gear of sport-specialized helmets, helmets, in general, weren’t designed to prevent brain injury, but more for skull fractures. According to a study from the University of Georgia, it was found that helmets reduced the risk of traumatic brain injury by only 20% compared to not wearing one. Such helmets specially designed for the prevention of concussions in the brain are emerging, but they are yet to be implemented into professional sports teams.
A potential alternative to helmets, according to many spectators, is the VICIS ZERO1 helmet. Ranking first in the NFL/NFLPA 2017 helmet laboratory performance testing, the following safety gear is nothing similar to those of before: the helmet morphs its shape once hit, allowing it to absorb more force with the separate columns of padding inside the helmet, thus slowing the forces reaching the head and brain. But one limitation lies behind the invention, which is the cost. Each cost around $1,500, being three times the cost of a regular football helmet. Also, in consideration of approximately 45 players per team, each team would have to spend $67,500 for the players’ safety.
Does this prove to us that American football and other similar contact sports should be banned? With an increasing amount of CTE-related deaths occurring, perhaps in a few decades, we could be noticing cases of suicide in one’s adolescent years. After all, it is up to the government to make a choice.
Jimin Jessica Kim, Grade 11
Chadwick International School