Football is under attack. Not from outside the sport, the scientists, lawyers or the families of suffering players, but from the inside. Brain disease (CTE) is a cancer embedded deep within the core of the sport itself. It threatens football’s continuation under its current model unless a solution is found. We know that better helmets, rule changes, practice restrictions, etc. will not change the risk.
In speaking about the future of youth football, Bennett Omalu MD, the first to identify CTE, is quoted, “Someday there will be a district attorney who will prosecute for child abuse, and it will succeed. It is the definition of child abuse.” Many discount Dr. Omalu’s statements because he never played the sport, doesn’t watch it, and did not grow up surrounded in the culture of football. They say he just doesn’t understand the “greater good” the sport offers. However, a recent Washington Post Op Ed, penned by Dr. Robert Cantu, takes the argument to another level. In “Children, tackle football and the possible dangers of brain diseases” Dr. Cantu recommends The US Surgeon General offer a warning to all parents of youth football participants. He suggested it could read:
“SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Tackle football is dangerous for children. Children who play tackle football absorb repeated hits to the head. As adults, they’re at higher risk of suffering cognitive deficits as well as behavioral and mood problems.”
Dr. Cantu, a neurologist, and a founding member of Boston Universities Center for CTE research, is one of the top Sports Medicine experts in the country if not the world. I have been in his office and it looks like the entrance to the NFL Hall of Fame. Pictures and football memorabilia cover the walls of his waiting room and office. He is a senior advisor of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee. Dr. Cantu is a football guy, and with this public statement he is effectively agreeing with Dr. Omalu that youth tackle football is not a good idea. So the question is, if tackle football is unsafe for youth, why isn’t it dangerous for high school, college, and professional players also? It is, and the research continues to support this. In fact there is a confluence of 7 major factors concerning this very issue that will shortly bring it to the forefront unlike ever before. These are:
- Increasing research on the Brain changes (MRI, White Matter, bio-markers, Neuro-cognitive testing) following a single season of football (Youth-College).
- Mounting research linking CTE to football – Boston Center for CTE Research
- Development of a CTE/Brain Damage biomarker for testing in living (recently an Alzheimer’s test identified disease with 94% accuracy. Ann McKee, MD said football would never be the same when this happens.)
- Healthcare cost explosion (Robert Stern at senate oversight testimony – Dec 2017)
- Insurance for Football nearly non-existent – NFL – one insurer (ESPN Outside The Lines, 2019). Greatest impact – youth football/High School/JC
- Current CTE Lawsuits coming to a head. Settlements lead to more Lawsuits.
- Barrage of lawsuits with research/biomarker validating disease.
This is happening now. If football is to continue, it needs an answer and I believe Vielight’s application of Photobiomodulation offers a solution (see Research results). I have partnered with nationally recognized Neuro-scientists from a major University to study former collision athletes as well as current College football players. We are scheduled to begin the initial study in a few weeks. I believe the research has the chance to change the discussion. Stay tuned for updates.