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CTE Could Be The End Of College Football As We Now Know It

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When it was time to change her husband Greg’s diaper, Deb Ploetz followed a routine. First, she would lead him to the bathroom of their rental house in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where they had moved to in February of 2015—in part to be closer to Deb’s family, and in part because memory care facilities in Texas and Colorado had been too scared of Greg, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound former football player, to let him stay.

Next, Deb’s sister, Jane Schubert, would hold Greg’s hands. Looking into his eyes, she’d recite the Lord’s Prayer. As Jane prayed, Deb would turn on a faucet, take off Greg’s pants, and clean him with a damp washcloth, wiping away urine and feces. “We had to do it as he was walking around,” she says. “He would mostly thrash with his arms. And then when you’d finish, he’d be mad.” Increasingly unable to speak, Greg still could communicate his pain. He would walk to the living room and slap the mini-blinds covering the windows, then shuffle into the kitchen and knock the grill tops off the gas stove. “I had to take the knobs off because I was afraid he would turn the stove on,” Deb Ploetz says. “I had to hide the tools, too. It was like baby-proofing the house.”


Greg was 66. He and Deb had been married for 37 years, and they had two children together, Beau and Erin. Greg was a college and high school art teacher and football coach, a loving father and talkative brother, and a restless and prolific painter once named the top art student at the University of Texas. But ever since his dementia diagnosis in 2009, his life and mind had withered. He went from constantly misplacing his wallet to losing his job to being flummoxed by puzzles made for toddlers. In the spring, Deb placed him in a Little Rock hospice, and on May 11, 2015, he died of the long term effects of his illness.

Seven months later, Boston University doctors told the family that Greg suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to repetitive head trauma. Characterized by the buildup of a toxic protein called tau in specific areas of the brain, CTE is associated with cognitive dysfunction and mood and behavior disorders, and only can be definitely diagnosed after death. In 2005, the neuropathologist Bennet Omalu found the disease in the brain of former NFL lineman Mike Webster, a discovery whose repercussions are still unfolding—Congressional hearings on the risks of concussions and head hits, investigative reports into what the NFL knew and when it knew it, ongoing rules changes intended to mitigate the game’s violence, and the settlement of a brain injury lawsuit brought against the league by thousands of former players that eventually could cost the NFL hundreds of millions of dollars.

But Greg Ploetz never played professional football. His career ended at Texas, where he starred as an undersized, overachieving defensive lineman and was a key member of the school’s 1969 national championship team. Nevertheless, Ploetz was diagnosed with the most advanced stage of the disease, and Boston University CTE Center director Ann McKee told Deb that his case was the worst she had seen in a college player to that point. Last summer, McKee and her colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that they had found CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 former NFL players—and in 48 of 53 former college players, too. The findings became national news, and in many outlets the story was illustrated with a photograph of Greg’s diseased and atrophied brain.

Football is America’s most popular college sport, reliably drawing millions of television viewers and generating nearly $5 billion in revenue in 2015-16. The game is overseen by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which counts more than 1,200 schools and athletic conferences as members and makes rules that govern everything from practice time to courtside corporate cup branding. The NCAA’s mission, according to the NCAA, is “safeguarding the well-being”of athletes.


Deb Ploetz takes exception to that last bit. In January of 2017, she filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking over $1 million in damages against the NCAA in Dallas. Her suit argues that the organization knew or should have known that concussions and head hits were dangerous, yet neither told Greg about the risk nor took sufficient action to protect him from harm. A trial is scheduled for June; barring a last-minute settlement, the case will become a legal landmark—the first such suit brought against a major football organization on behalf of a former player with CTE to be heard by a jury.


Football is a violent game; a college player can be hit in the head more than 1,000 times over the course of a season. According to the NCAA, football has the third-highest rate of diagnosed concussions of any campus sport, behind men’s wrestling and men’s and women’s ice hockey. And football’s rate of undiagnosed concussions may be even higher: a 2014 Harvard University study found that college players report having six suspected concussions and 21 “dings”—jarring hits that may or may not have caused concussions—for every one that’s diagnosed.


Others see a different NCAA—one that has abdicated its founding mission by disregarding decades of warnings about brain injuries in football while declining to mandate and enforce commonsense safety rules. Asked to describe the organization’s efforts, Deb Ploetz’s attorney, Gene Egdorf, scoffs. “Just a lot of lip service,” he says.

The NCAA disagrees with that characterization. Responding to the 2011 class action suit, association spokesperson Osburn told USA Today in 2013 that “the NCAA has been at the forefront of safety issues throughout its existence” and that it had “specifically addressed the issue of head injuries through a combination of playing rules, equipment requirements and medical best practices.”

History paints a less flattering picture. Mike Dean was Greg Ploetz’s teammate in high school, and also at Texas. In 2014, he told the Dallas Morning News that a dazed Ploetz would often wander to the wrong sideline after plays, only to have his teammates steer him to the huddle and his place on the defensive line. “We all did that,” Dean said.

Conventional wisdom holds that nobody in football back then knew any better—and that nobody studying brain trauma knew any better, either. As recently as 2014, Hainline told the New York Times that there was “very little published science to guide” the NCAA’s concussion policies.


Egdorf disagrees. “Here’s what’s going to happen in court,” he says of the upcoming Ploetz trial. “The NCAA will say, ‘gosh, who knew about CTE back then? We didn’t even have cell phones!’ But this notion that we didn’t know anything about brain trauma in football until recently is poppycock.”

Three years after Roosevelt’s White House meeting, a study of Harvard football players found that concussions were commonplace and concluded that injuries “are avoided by not playing injured men until they have entirely recovered.” In 1928, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association used the phrase “punch drunk” to describe the neurological problems suffered by boxers who had suffered repeated blows to the head—the condition now known as CTE. The report’s author, Dr. Harrison Martland, subsequently told the Associated Press that he suspected that other contact sport athletes might also be afflicted.

In 1933, the NCAA published a medical handbook for its member schools that stated “there is definitely a condition described as ‘punch drunk,’ and often recurrent concussion cases in football and boxing demonstrate this.’” Written by three doctors, the handbook also covered brain trauma. Noting the “severe” and “special” nature of head injuries and stating that concussions are “often overlooked,” the authors advised that concussed athletes be removed from games, treated with rest and medical supervision, not allowed to play or practice until symptom-free for 48 hours; if symptoms persisted, it was advised that they not allowed to compete for “21 days or longer, if at all.”



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Muda, from the high school forum to the college forum.  I predict next you will post about CTE on the NFL forum and finally will hit it on OOB.

A+ for extreme perseverance and passion......F for being a broken record.  Judge Wapner is on at 4pm.

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Guys, CTE may be the end of college football as we know it, but it definitely is not the end of college football. The dangers of the use of tobacco products, specifically smoking, has been well documented over the course of decades not and while there have been declines in sales, it's still a billion dollar industry in the United States. I do believe the dangers of the game will necessitate change but not render the sport extinct. 

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