The Compton-born, Ivy-League graduate, retired NFL-All Pro Defensive End, co-host of ABC show Winners Bracket, ESPN Football Analyst has been a refreshingly candid and intelligent voice on a range of professional sports issues, most notably gun ownership. He minces no words in our conversation below.
I have three words for you: chronic traumatic encephalopathy. What can you say about that?
Well, with Chris Henry’s death I heard he was diagnosed with that — CTE. I’ve heard of over 50 former players who have had unusual circumstances related to their deaths and were also victims of CTE. It is something of a conversation amongst my circle in a sense that we wonder are we victims of the same thing. What are the symptoms? I think a lot more needs to be known about it. Because if we played under conditions which led to that, obviously we want to be abreast of it and well-informed.
Chris Henry is the first player reported to have CTE while he was playing but he did not know.
Football is such a violent game. Part of the culture is to tough it out and play through injury. Sometimes that means you can go further then you even know. You can ignore things that are obvious symptoms which would tell the common person to go to the doctor’s office but as a football player you may just walk around and this “this is part of the game.” I don’t know the symptoms of CTE but it needs to be addresses and answered in a widespread manner.
Whatever is found out, given the violent nature of football, what can we possibly do about it?
First of all figure out what are the causes. I don’t know enough about it but obviously there must be some linkage to sports where there are collisions.
I think the cause is fairly established: It’s repeated hits on the head.
Yeah, that’s the assumption I was under. What can you do about it? There is some small fine print in the contract in life you sign when you say you want to play professional football, and I think that’s just part of it. Better technology with the helmets, safer techniques in tackling… but we kind of know what we are signing onto. It’s kind of unfortunate that we get to this point where there is CTE even while you play but other than those two safeguards I don’t know what else they can do because guys are still going to go out there and bang.