SBD/July 27, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

CTE Study Aftermath: Ravens' John Urschel Abruptly Retires; Player Opinion Varies

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Urschel previously said his passion for football outweighed the risk of CTE
Ravens C John Urschel today "abruptly announced his retirement from football at the age of 26," and his decision was "linked to the results" of the study on CTE released earlier this week, according to a source cited by Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. Urschel "left the Ravens' facility before practice without making a statement." Urschel is "pursuing his doctorate" at MIT in the offseason, "focusing on spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning." He was "expected to compete for the Ravens' starting center job in training camp." In January, Urschel told HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" that his passion for playing football "outweighs the risks of suffering head trauma" (ESPN.com, 7/27). ESPN's Adam Schefter said, "We always see players sometimes retire before camp, but it does seem like in recent years we’ve seen more young players step away from the game for whatever reason. Urschel is the smartest player in the NFL. ... Everybody knows how smart John Urschel is. So he’s made what he believes is a smart decision now." ESPN's Matt Hasselbeck added, "Data is coming out now and saying, ‘Hey maybe this isn’t the smartest game that you could be playing. Maybe this isn’t the best use of your brain. And some players are saying, ‘Hey, there’s life after football’” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/27).

RISK & REWARD: In Philadelphia, Marcus Hayes notes Eagles' players had their "heads spinning with the results" of the study. The players were, "at once, fatalistic, pragmatic; and delusional." They "accept that they have chosen to play a deadly game for immense reward." Hayes: "Incredibly, they think they will get out before it's too late." Eagles TE Zach Ertz said, "I'm not going out there thinking about the repercussions." Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins said, "CTE's inevitable. I probably already have it." Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said of the risk of CTE, "Most of the players have an understanding of that, and embrace it." Eagles WR Torrey Smith said, "That study is biased, but even if it's biased, there's something to it." Jenkins said, "Depending on how much money you're making, what opportunities are out there for you -- you've got families depending on the income. It's not just that simple, to walk away from it" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 7/27). Panthers LB Thomas Davis said, "We definitely talked about it. That's something that's definitely -- it's alarming. I will say it's something we're really paying close attention to as players. I would be lying to you if I (said) that I didn't get nervous seeing that stat (of 110 out 11 former NFLers found with CTE)." Panthers WR Russell Shepard said, "It’s just something that comes with the game. If I wanted to do something different I could’ve played another sport. I could’ve chosen another profession. But I love this game. ... At the end of the day, the money you make, the people you meet, the experience you get from playing this game, I’ll take it against CTE" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/27).

GETTING EDUCATED: Patriots WR Matthew Slater said, "As a player, you're definitely thankful that they're starting to look into that, do the necessary research and hopefully get us to a better place when it comes to that." Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "This is an important area that's being given a lot of attention, as it should" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/27). Vikings QB Sam Bradford said, "It’s starting to become a little bit more concerning because it seems that each study that comes out, they’re finding more and more brain trauma, which is obviously a little bit scary. ... It comes with the understanding that these are the risks we take when we play football" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 7/27). Former NFLer Matt Birk said, "What about the 15,000 or so deceased former NFL players who lived full lives and didn't have CTE?" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 7/26). Univ. of Arizona OL Jacob Alsadek said, "I'm scared to watch the Concussion movie. I don't know if I'll ever look at that sort of thing." UCLA LB Kenny Young said, "You make the decision to play football, and you have to accept the good and bad with that" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/26).

WHAT'S NEXT? 
FS1's Colin Cowherd said of the study, "It validated kind of a belief or theory that we talked about. CTE is prevalent, and what it shows you is yes, it is an issue. But three things are happening in football and they're all good. The market is changing. At the youth level, less hitting early, good thing. Equipment is evolving, good thing, and also players are retiring a little earlier, top players. ... That's a good thing. I believe football should be played, I do not believe football should be played forever. I think it should be played at a tackling level from maybe 15 to 29." Cowherd said while the numbers are "startling," there was a "tremendous selection bias, and my takeaway is, football's safer today than it's ever been my entire life" ("Speak for Yourself," FS1, 7/26). ESPN’s Dan Le Batard said of the study, “What you have here is something that feels dangerously close to proof and what the NFL will do is … say, ‘Hey, the science isn't conclusive yet.'" ESPN’s Sarah Spain said of the NFL, "Knowing what we do about the declining numbers in youth football, and even some declining numbers in viewership, what they need to do is embrace the study. They need to say, ‘Look at this information we're getting, this is very helpful to us and we are going to apply this to our sport to make it safer" ("Highly Questionable," ESPN, 7/26).

KEEP STUDYING: Boston Univ.'s Dr. Michael Alosco said the "sheer size of the individuals who have CTE is really concerning and it’s really suggesting a link between prior participation in football and CTE.” The study is going to "serve as a rich data source going forward." Alosco: "We know there are a lot of benefits associated with playing sports and participating in sports, but this study and our findings raise a lot of concern, and we need to do more future research. We need to know more about the disease, more about the risk factors for the disease before we can really make any informed recommendations about policy or about safety" ("NewsHour," PBS, 7/26).

RISK VS. REWARD? A DALLAS MORNING NEWS editorial states this new CTE data "gives a sense of urgency to our push for more study on concussions in all sports and the long-term trauma to athletes who injure their heads." Parents "need to be armed with more information to make the tough call on whether playing is worth the risk" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/27). In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes under the header, "Football And Hockey's Pros Far Outweigh Odds Of Life-Changing Injury" (TORONTO SUN, 7/27). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes, "Football has worth, but at what cost to the participant, especially when other sports provide similar benefits with lower risk of CTE?" The game is "not doomed to disappear within a generation, but it must alarm coaches, administrators and TV networks when former NFL players say they will not allow their sons to play the sport" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/27). The GLOBE & MAIL editorial cartoon shows a QB being snapped a newspaper reading "Study: Violent Sports and Brain Injury," to which the QB says, "Yikes!" (GLOBE & MAIL, 7/27).
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