With every addition to the body of science indicating a link between football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), current and former NFL players are becoming increasingly concerned about possibly developing the neurodegenerative disease. Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp recently said that he would be donating his brain for study, adding, “My memory ain’t what it used to be.”
On Friday, hours before his own Hall of Fame induction, Terrell Davis admitted that he, too, has been pondering the potential onset of CTE. “I can’t lie, we’re all scared,” the former Broncos running back told the Denver Post.
“We’re concerned because we don’t know what the future holds,” the 44-year-old Davis said. “When I’m at home and I do something, if I forget something I have to stop to think, ‘Is this because I’m getting older or I’m just not using my brain, or is this an effect of playing football?’ I don’t know that.”
Memory loss is a common indicator of CTE, a condition associated with repeated head trauma, such as concussions or sub-concussive impacts. In a recent study, 110 of 111 brains of former NFL players donated for research showed signs of CTE, and many in the world of football took note.
In July, while discussing the possibility that this could be his final NFL season, Ben Roethlisberger said, “I know this new study that came out that 90 percent [of NFL] players’ brains who were studied had CTE. There’s a lot of scary things, and I think my wife would be okay if I hung it up, too.”
“It’s scary to think that my brain could be deteriorating and that maybe things like forgetting a grocery list, or how to get to a friend’s house I’ve been to a thousand times are just the tip of the iceberg,” the 44-year-old Sapp said in a June essay. “… You try to find a reason that it’s not — that it’s my brain, that I’m not deteriorating right before my own eyes. It’s the most frightening feeling, but it’s also a very weakening feeling because you feel like a child.”
“Yeah, I’m scared, so I try to stay as active as possible, keep my mind as sharp as possible,” Davis said. Lower-leg injuries cut short a career that had gotten off to a brilliant start through his first four seasons — so brilliant, in fact, that it landed him in Canton — but it’s possible that those injuries saved him from many more incidents of brain trauma.
As it is, one of the most memorable moments of Davis’s career involved a migraine headache, one that temporarily blinded him during Super Bowl XXXII in 1998. He stayed on the field, anyway, and served as a decoy until symptoms subsided, then was named Super Bowl MVP after rushing for 157 yards and three touchdowns in a Denver win over Green Bay.
“I think about that moment a lot because if they had the rules in place then, I don’t go back into that game,” Davis told the Post. “And that changes a lot. Am I here [in the Hall of Fame]? Thank God it didn’t happen like that.”
Davis also expressed gratitude for football’s efforts to make the game safer in recent years. “People ask me the question, would you let your kids play? Yeah, I would,” he said. “Now, 10 years ago I may have said something different.
“But now, the way they’re teaching kids to tackle, the fact that they identify concussions a lot faster, they sit you out a couple plays, you’re not going to practice as long,” he continued. “All that stuff is helping the game of football.
“But, yes, I’m concerned.”
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