I was, to put it mildly, a modest high-school football player on a team of which our coach noted, “We’re small, but we’re slow.” Junior Seau and I had nothing in common football-wise – except that I once had a concussion that knocked me loopy, sent me to the infirmary, and that I wore as a badge of honor until I started reading about chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a degenerative brain disease – a close relative of boxing’s “dementia pugilistica,” which is just “punch drunk” dressed in a toga – that can only be diagnosed in the brains of the dead. To the living it brings early-onset Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, often in the prime of life. Seau was 43 last May when he went home and put a bullet through his chest, preserving for science the brain that had brought him to suicide. Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health confirmed that it was riddled with CTE.
The CTE story is much like the global-warming story. The scientific evidence is beyond dispute, but the culture refuses to accept it. Boston University researchers have studied 34 brains of former pro football players; 33 had CTE. So players, fans, coaches, owners insist the evidence remains insufficient.
Pro football is no longer a game. It is a “spectator sport” in the way the Roman games were. It involves enormous amounts of money, both legal and illegal, and a class of gladiators who do battle to bloodthirsty cheers. Unless that changes, the brains of the Junior Seaus will remain simply a cost of doing business.