Frank Gifford. Junior Seau. Ken Stabler. Mike Webster. These are the names of some of the greatest football players ever to live. They are all immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and unfortunately, all dead from a chronic brain injury that they acquired during their days of playing professional football. They all suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy(CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated blows to the head. Basically, the brain starts to attack the body from the inside out. Symptoms of CTE include trouble thinking, emotional and behavioral issues, and physical pain. CTE causes people who have the disease to go “mad”. One of the most traumatic cases of CTE was the case of Justin Strzelczyk, who, at just the age of 36, died from driving over 90 miles per hour on the wrong side of the highway while being chased by the police. How powerful is CTE? At first, it was thought that Strzelczyk was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But it was his brain literally eating itself that caused him to act the way he did, which unfortunately led to his death.
If this sounds familiar it is because it is the plot of the movie “Concussion” which starred Will Smith. CTE was not discovered until 2002, when a forensic pathologist named Dr. Bennet Omalu was doing an autopsy on Ex-NFLer Mike Webster’s brain. His work was then verified when multiple former NFL players passed away and ended up on Dr.Omalu’s table.
Dr.Omalu was criticized and publicly humiliated for his discovery, with the NFL claiming, “he is not practicing medicine, he is practicing voodoo”. While NFL fans were personally attacking Dr.Omalu, saying he has no idea what he is talking about, and how a “foreigner from Nigeria” should stay out of football.
It was not until 2009, 7 years after Mike Webster landed on Dr.Omalu’s table that the NFL publicly acknowledged CTE. Seven years of lies, deceit, and ignorance. Seven years of publicly mocking a doctor who made one of the biggest discoveries of out generation. Seven years of keeping players in the dark about the risk of playing football. Seven years.