CTE will be the end of football

Football is facing the harsh reality of a degenerative brain disease

There is no denying the popularity of football in the U.S., as seen by the millions of fans that follow it, but the sport is heading toward its demise. 

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (commonly referred to as CTE) is a significant factor in football's demise, especially when it concerns university teams — as they generate substantial revenue.

Recent findings regarding the degenerative brain disease could have lasting effects on contact sports like football, and institutions like ASU could be hurt tremendously.

Boston University’s major study analyzed brains of deceased football players at varying playing levels including pre-high school, high school, college, semi-professional, the Canadian Football League and the National Football League.

Of the 202 brains examined, 177 had CTE to some degree, including 110 of 111 NFL players. 

If parents begin taking notice of CTE studies now and see how players of all different playing levels are affected in the long run, they might not allow their children to play football at all. 

This would dramatically decrease the pool of players who could be playing in the next 15 to 20 years. Fewer athletes playing now means fewer athletes playing when they reach college age, and that spells bad news for U.S. universities.

ASU football generates millions of dollars for the school each year — more than any other Sun Devil athletic program. Losing that money could be devastating to future revenue for the ASU athletics department.

While the research numbers are alarming, they do not tell the entire story of CTE and its effects. 

“This whole thing has been blown out of proportion and scared a lot of people,” Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a neuropathologist at the University of Toronto who studies CTE, said. “People have to balance things but not take this too seriously. More studies need to be done to make that connection between concussions and CTE.”

Even the recent study about Fred McNeill suggesting the possibility of detecting CTE in living people rather than waiting until the subject dies still requires a lot more research.

“It wasn’t convincing to me that they have actually been able to (find a way to treat patients while they are alive),” Hazrati said. “I’ll be very cautious before moving on. It’s just one study, so it needs to be replicated.”

Regardless of whether there is a connection between concussions caused by football and CTE, the research suggests the possibility that players can be affected as early as high school. 

That fact alone could be critical to universities and football programs moving forward.

There are always going to be die-hard football fans who want to play the game they love no matter the costs. A few NFL players have even gone as far to say they would die on the field because they’re so passionate. 

However, it only takes parents denying their children the opportunity to play football to end their football careers. If conversations like that take place across the country, the number of players could diminish drastically, and football programs everywhere would begin losing players and, ultimately, money.

Players with aspirations beyond high school are going to want to play against the best competition. They will still take thousands of damaging hits throughout their careers even if they waited a few years to begin playing.

It’s impossible to predict how CTE research will affect football in the coming years, but the sport is already losing popularity and the glaring statistics do not bode well for the future. 

ASU could be greatly affected if CTE research provides more evidence of a connection between concussions and CTE.

Athletic programs would be forced to find different sources of revenue outside of football, which is the cash cow for many schools. Universities should start planning for this scenario now because further CTE research, as it becomes available, is only going to harm football's image.

The millions of dollars in jeopardy if football loses enough popularity would pose challenges for universities across the country, and the sport seems to be slowly trending toward its inevitable downfall, whenever that may be. 

Reach the columnist at Steven.Slobodzian@asu.edu or follow @PSlobodzianASU on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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