UTMB’s William Winslade co-authored this guest column on chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
“Earlier this year, 21-year-old Owen Thomas, a former University of Pennsylvania football player, hanged himself in his off-campus apartment. An autopsy revealed that Thomas suffered from CTE, a condition that typically results from repeated blows to the surface of the brain. Commonly known as “punch-drunk syndrome,” CTE was long thought to be an occupational hazard of the boxing ring. The news that Thomas had suffered from CTE provoked a wave of concern among football players and their families. … It is heartening to see the issues of CTE and concussions gaining urgency in the wake of widespread news stories. But we must realize that the risks of concussions and the magnitude of the harms they cause may be significantly larger than we previously believed. Further, we must move past the idea that helmet technology or concussion-management protocols can cure all of the problems. The only thing we can say with certainty is that there will be no easy solutions. We must confront an ethical question: namely, what levels of risk of brain injuries are tolerable for players in pursuit of a game they love? That is the question that players and parents must answer.”