New York Jets safety Jamal Adams said, “I can speak for a lot of guys that play the game, we live and breathe it. This is what we’re so passionate about. Literally, if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field. And that’s not a lie…but again, I’m all about making the game safer.” The 21-year old rookie was at a Jets’ fan forum when he made this statement, where many of the fans applauded. However, many didn’t find his comments admirable.
Keana McMahon, ex-wife of late Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, was one of the first to take issue with Adams’ statement. “I don’t even know what to say. This guy doesn’t know what’s coming down the pipeline. He has no idea what dealing with someone who has CTE is like. I bet my kids would want their father here. I know in my heart of hearts that Justin would have wanted to see his daughter get married someday or see his son graduate from college, not dying on a football field.” McMahon watched Strzelczyk suffer for eight years with mood swings and volatile behavior. In September 2004, nine months after they divorced, Strzelczyk died when he intentionally drove his pickup truck into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a tanker truck. This was after the 36-year old led state troopers on a 40-mile highway chase in New York. All because of CTE. There are several players who have suffered from this before their death, most notably Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, and Ken Stabler.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative disease found in people who have suffered from repeated blows to the head. Currently, it can only be definitively diagnosed by direct tissue examination after death, which includes a full autopsy. It’s common among athletes in full contact sports like rugby, ice hockey, boxing, wrestling and especially football. There was a movie out in 2015 called Concussion that highlighted the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu. In 2002, he discovered the disease from his autopsy of former Steelers Mike Webster. Since then, the NFL has come under a lot of scrutiny because it appears as if they are trying to mask over the seriousness of the disease. They didn’t want the reports and research of Dr. Omalu to be public, for fear of being sued or players quitting. Both of which happened. Thousands of former players sued the NFL for $1 billion. Several players have started to retire at an early age. The NFL has tried to make the game “safer” by reducing the amount of time players can practice using full contact. They have setup programs to show better tackling techniques. They have moved kick-offs up to prevent returns. They have imposed penalties and fines for “leading with the crown of your helmet”. They now have a “concussion protocol” that a player must go through if they show symptoms. However, they have not disclosed how long they have known about the concussions and its possible effect on players.
The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell was sitting right next to Adams when he mentioned he would die on the football. He said, “I think what he was really making the point of is how much he loved the game and how passionate he is about the game. It’s just something that means a great deal to him. I get the emotion of that.” We all understand the young man’s enthusiasm for the game he loves, but here was an opportunity for the commissioner to highlight CTE and the safety of the league. He threw a proverbial INT on that play. There is a new study by Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee that found CTE in 177 of the 202 brains of deceased former football players. That is 88 percent! These players come from all levels of football. Three of 14 who had played only in high school had CTE, 48 of 53 college players, 9 of 14 semiprofessional players, and 7 of 8 Canadian Football League players. CTE wasn’t found in the brains of two who played football before high school. When it came to NFL players, 110 out of 111 had CTE. An astonishing 99 percent of deceased NFL players had CTE. When Goodell was asked about it at the forum he said, “The average NFL player lives five years longer than you. So their lifespan is actually longer and healthier. And I think because of all the advancements, including the medical care, that number is going to even increase for them. I think the one thing everyone agrees on is there’s an awful lot more questions than there are answers at this point.” He swept it under the rug. SMH.
CTE is serious, which is why Adams clarified his statement the next day. He said, “Honestly, I really didn’t see it getting that far. I was speaking about being passionate about the game that I love. I understand that some families were affected by this disease. I definitely didn’t mean it in any type of way. My words were simply that I’m very passionate about what I do. I said at the beginning…I’m all about making the game safer. I understand CTE and the symptoms and whatnot, and how families are affected by it, but it’s simply about passion.” Regardless of intent, thank you young man for shining light on this dark subject.