The Hamilton Spectator and a team of researchers at McMaster University spent two years studying the brains of almost two-dozen retired Canadian Football League players.
The story demands your attention, no matter your opinion on football. The findings will make you think about the obligation that professional sports leagues — and not just the National Football League and the Canadian Football League — have to ensure that the players’ health will not be compromised.
One relatively short paragraph stood out to me: “It seems that their brains are already very fragile,” said Minuzzi. Minuzzi was one of the doctors involved in the study.
The Spectator’s report states, “Brain images from some retired players in their 40s looked like the images of men in their 80s.”
The Spectator’s report was published at almost the same time former NFL player Ed Cunningham announced he was stepping away from his lucrative job as a college football color commentator for ESPN and ABC Sports.
Cunningham suggested that multiple factors weighed on his decision. “But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable,” he said.
Cunningham’s decision reminds us — those of us who call ourselves sports fans, and perhaps more specifically football fans — that we also must grapple with an uncomfortable reality: By watching this sport, by supporting it with our time and our money, we are endorsing the potential destruction of hundreds of men.
We are as complicit as the organizations that govern football, the television networks that pay extravagant amounts of money to airing and discussing the games, and, yes, the players themselves who now are aware of the risks they are taking by participating in football.
I need to consider that among the most popular weekly posts I make on my blog are my Canadian Football League power rankings. Sure, my blog makes almost no money, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’m writing something that roughly 150 people a week read.
When great players such as Junior Seau die at a young age (Seau was only 43 when he fatally shot himself), fans are horrified; we want to remember the greatness, the talent, the tenacity, but we don’t want to consider whether what happened to Seau, and others, stemmed from watching the equivalent of the ancient gladiators, who would fight to the death as the crowds roared with approval or disgust.
For different reasons, I’ve already abandoned the National Future League. But I still find myself drawn to watching college football and the Canadian Football League. Should I continue watching, knowing that much more needs to be done to protect the players from a lifetime of pain? And worse.