I recently read comments from Merril Hoge who was interviewed about his book, “Brainwashed: The Bad Science behind CTE and The Plot to Destroy Football.” As I listened to him talk, I remembered several quotes he made a while back when he commented about his son, Beau, a QB on BYU’s 2017 and 2018 team. When asked how he felt about his son’s move from QB to another position, Hoge used words such as, “stupid, weird, bizarre, smelly and dumb” to describe the switch. He went on to question a BYU coach’s integrity and said, “It doesn’t smell good. Coaches like that to me are weasels on staffs.” His son Beau responded immediately by saying, “the coaches answered all my concerns, I am at peace.” He went on, “I love this coaching staff, I love BYU, and I love my dad. I know he’s excited for me and supports me no matter what. Go Cougs!” Not letting it go, Merrill continued to criticize the coaches and even their offensive system, saying “it looks like a junior high school.” I couldn’t believe someone would talk about his son’s coaches in such a disrespectful way, especially while his son was still playing for these same coaches. Who does that?
As soon as I heard the comments I immediately thought, ‘this guy has CTE’. Merril Hoge played several years in the NFL and was forced to retire due to repeated concussions. And here he was criticizing the science behind CTE in his book. Interesting. As I read comments from him I thought of the on-going denials that came from the tobacco industry not so long ago. In 1964 U.S. Surgeon General warned that smoking caused cancer. Yet it wasn’t until 2006, 42 years and nearly 20 million US deaths later, that U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler of the District of Columbia wrote the following in United States of America v. Philip Morris USA,
“In short, [the companies] have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”
The experts/scientists Philip Morris hired regularly contended in medical journals, courtrooms, and regulatory arenas that their clients’ products posed little or no health risks to the public. The firms successfully delayed responsibility by criticizing the work of other scientists, and emphasizing the doubt inherent in health science. Sound familiar?
The NFL/NCAA and their representatives have taken their tactics straight from the tobacco industries playbook. From the beginning they have denied and delayed. These newest deniers bring nothing new to the discussion. The science relating brain injury to football is solid, it is published in peer-reviewed journals and it is becoming impossible for reasonable people to ignore or dismiss. It has become overwhelming in its findings if one will seriously look.
I mentioned that my wife and I spent 18 months in Boston between 2016 and 2018. While we were there we met with all the major players involved with CTE research, Ann McKee MD, Robert Stern PhD and Robert Cantu MD. We spent a significant amount of time in their offices talking face to face. These are compassionate scientists dedicated to the truth. Interestingly, they all love the sport. In addition, the first question/statement each of them started our conversation with was, “you probably don’t have CTE!” However, after spending time with us, they no longer took that position. In fact all of them encouraged follow-up testing, and one even said, “You probably do.” These researchers are the face of CTE research. They are not interested in trying to convince everyone who played football that they have or will suffer from the disease. Actually it is quite the opposite. For Mr. Hoge to accuse these and their colleagues of plotting to “Destroy Football” is what fairy tales are made of.
The people who deny the existence of this disease or try to disprove it by picking apart research published in highly respected scientific journals are not doing anyone any good, least of all the NFL and NCAA. They only delay solutions. “Tell the truth” is what Dr. Omalu, played by Will Smith, forcefully tells Joseph Maroon in the movie Concussion. That was in 2003. What would have happened if the parties came together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration as Omalu first proposed? Would it be solved? The disease is real. The case studies are compelling and the research is powerful. Study it and I believe you will agree.
There are answers! Football can be saved in spite of those who lead the sport.