One of the realities of today's NFL and football in general is the fact many fans and casual observers associate the sport with concussions, head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly thinks it's outlandish to make that latter connection.
According to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, Jones told reporters Tuesday at the annual NFL owners' meetings in Florida that "it's absurd [to] say there's a relationship [between] CTE and playing football."
Jones offered some detailed clarification of his position on the subject, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post:
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.
On Wednesday, Jones attempted to clarify what he meant by his comments, per Todd Archer of ESPN.com:
All I said was that we [the NFL] have not changed. That is not an indication that we've changed anything or it's not something we just started the last several years. We've been looking at ways to improve the safety, looking for ways to assist in research and acting on it. So from that standpoint, I think the question was, 'Have you changed your direction in the NFL?' And the answer to that is no.
Part of the issue is CTE can only be found posthumously, per Paul Liotta and Mark Emery of the New York Daily News. That creates inconsistencies when determining whether retired, living players even have the disease in the first place and whether to pay them under the terms of the ongoing concussion settlement.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote there is "a balancing act" for compensating deceased players determined to have CTE instead of living players who may have it but aren't yet showing symptoms.
Green Bay Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang thinks Jones is in denial about CTE and its link to football:
Jones' comments come a week after Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president of health and safety policy, said "the answer to that question is certainly yes" when asked if there was a connection between football and CTE, per Steve Fainaru of ESPN.com. Fainaru said it was the first time any senior league official has officially acknowledged the link.
Miller made his concession during a round-table discussion with the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce and pointed to the work of Dr. Ann McKee as the reason behind his answer. McKee, who works at Boston University, has found CTE in 90 of 94 former NFL players she examined posthumously, per Fainaru.
McKee also said she thinks there is a clear link between football and CTE, per Fainaru.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy did clarify the league's stance in the aftermath of Miller's comments in a statement, per A.J. Perez of USA Today: "He was discussing Dr. McKee's findings and made the additional point that a lot more questions need to be answered. ... We want the facts, so we can develop better solutions."
The NFL also made sure to clarify in a statement that Miller's comments didn't have any bearing on the appeal of the concussion settlement, per Florio.
While Jones and the NFL said there needs to be more data, the fact McKee found CTE in such a high percentage of former players she examined is substantive. What's more, concussions reached a four-year high during the 2015 campaign, according to NFL injury data, which is alarming in and of itself.
Notable former players such as Tyler Sash, Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, transcendent linebacker and Hall of Famer Junior Seau and Hall of Famer John Mackey have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE, among many others. The issue even hit Hollywood when Will Smith starred in the movie Concussion, portraying Dr. Bennet Omalu.
Omalu, who helped discover CTE, lent his opinion to the severity of the issue in football, per Sean Gregory of Time: "I think over 90 percent of American football players suffer from this disease. ... I have not examined any brain of a retired football player that came back negative."
Jared Dubin of CBS Sports reacted to Jones' comments Tuesday in light of the data available:
Jerry wants to see more research on the subject of CTE and football. That's fine. Everyone should. It's an important subject. But how many more football players have to die and then show evidence of CTE in their brains before it becomes acceptable to admit a link exists?
It's a question worth asking about such an important and seemingly divisive topic.