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Jerry Jones Not Convinced Of Link Between Football & Brain Injuries

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The Cowboys owner is far from convinced that the innate violence in football is the underlying cause of long term brain damage suffered by former players.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys owner has never been shy about expressing his opinions on any given subject, often to his detriment. Speaking at the current round of meetings of NFL owners Jerry Jones has once again came down solidly on one side of a controversial issue and once again it seems that the chances are that Mr. Jones is on the indefensible side of the discussion. He is stating that it is absurd to think that there is a link between brain injuries suffered on the field and long term brain damage suffered by those who once played the game.

"We don't have that knowledge and background, and scientifically, so there's no way in the world to say you have a relationship relative to anything here. There's no research. There's no data. ... We're not disagreeing. We're just basically saying the same thing. We're doing a lot more. It's the kind of thing that you want to work ... to prevent injury."

This statement comes on the heels of the National Football League's senior vice president for safety and health admitting for the first time that there is a serious cause for concern the chronic traumatic encephalopathy, referred to as CTE, is a direct result of playing football, among other sports.

What is absurd is that the Dallas owner is choosing to ignore the fact that there is research out there that has drawn the valid conclusion that CTE is tied directly to violent contact sports. Clinical Professor of Health and Kinesiology at Purdue University Larry Leverenz, one of the leading researchers studying the link between football and CTE, reports that in a recent study that the cause for concern may be even greater than many believe. His study found that even less intense impacts are causing problems within the brain.

"We are seeing changes in brain activity even without a diagnosed concussion, even without any sign or symptoms showing up and that that occurs in a large population of our subjects."

These studies concluded that not only are non-concussive injuries impacting the neurons in the brain, other vital parts of the system are being impacted as well. The vascular structure and glial cells are being damaged as well. These are the cells in the brain that support the functions of the neurons themselves.  The study even went so far as to conclude that these impacts may be even more damaging than concussions. Since these injuries are usually not diagnosed, the remain untreated. Some heal over time others do not.

Some studies of retired NFL players have shown that a staggering 89% of league alumni exhibit signs of CTE, memory and behavioral issues.and/or Parkinson's disease. A former professional football player is 20 times more likely to suffer from Alzheimer's disease than is the general population. Those statistics are so far out of line that there is little reason to believe that they are an anomaly.

The brains of 91 deceased former NFL players have been examined (as of 18 months ago) and 87 of those have shown signs of CTE and other brain damage. That is 96%. Examinations also revealed a similar trend in those who played the game at lower levels (131 of 165 showed signs of serious damage). Researchers at Boston University, which has been the recipient of many research grants provided by the NFL (before the league backed out of funding studies that disproved its claims) to study the link between CTE and football, show that these results highly typical and consistent from study to study.

This is in stark contrast to the claims Jones made at the league meetings.

There's no data that in any way creates a knowledge. There's no way that you could have made a comment that there is an association and some type of assertion. In most things, you have to back it up by studies. And in this particular case, we all know how medicine is. Medicine is evolving. I grew up being told that aspirin was not good. I'm told that one a day is good for you. ... I'm saying that changed over the years as we've had more research and knowledge.

While Jones is correct that there are more studies that need to be done, he is far off base with his conclusions. There has been more than enough done already to serve as an eye opener. Jones and 31 other owners, and their minions in the league offices, can make all the claims that they want. The evidence is to the contrary. To claim after nearly a decade of research, much funded by the league, that it is absurd to think that football and CTE are linked is preposterous. This is not a public relations issue for the NFL, something to be swept under the carpet, it is a serious health and safety concern that is going to have to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Sadly the league and owners like Jerry Jones are taking a similar approach to the one taken by industrialists over a century ago. Their tactics revolve around denial. They deny the fact that there are serious health issues in their industry, and they attack anyone who dares to say otherwise. It was that constant denial that eventually gave rise to writers like Upton Sinclair who were finally able to sound the alarm often and loud enough that others finally looked beyond the industrialists claims and saw the truth for what it was. Perhaps that is what it will take for the National Football League to finally admit what is becoming more and more clear. Until then, we can only expect more of the same from the powers that be in the game of professional football.

That is what is really absurd.

[Ed. Note]

Jones later attempted to clarify his comments, saying that the NFL has not significantly changed its stance. Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas has a write-up on the topic if you want to explore this further.