Jerry Jones is completely wrong about the NFL and CTE

(Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Mitchell/Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes there’s no proven link between football and CTE, the degenerative brain disorder, telling Mark Maske of The Washington Post that, "In no way should we be basically making assumptions with no more data than we’ve got about the consequences of a head injury."

In his wide-ranging comments on CTE, Jones discussed the lack of studies and the need for research before making such a definitive statement about football’s role in its development:

Jones is absolutely right and completely wrong. Look, I’m not an expert in CTE. You’re not an expert either. People opining about this on sports talk radio and television shows usually don’t have medical degrees. And just because you saw Concussion doesn’t mean you understand football’s relation to CTE better than anyone else. (I’m only kidding: No one saw Concussion.) But when doctors and researchers are making the claim that they believe such a link exists, their words should be heeded.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

During his comments, Jones claimed he didn’t want to get into semantics, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. What he says isn’t wrong: Doctors and the NFL need more data about CTE. Everyone, including Bennet Omalu, the doctor who wrote the famous NFL/CTE paper off which Concussion is based, acknowledges this. But simply because the link isn’t completely proven doesn’t mean the suspicions are incorrect. For the safety of its players and the health of the league, the NFL needs to act as if this is true. The worst-case (and far-fetched) scenario is that studies prove no link. Then, football will have made itself safer anyway. 

Few expect studies to prove that, though. They require time, money and the allowance of different variables, which is especially hard when diagnosing CTE can only be done via autopsy (so far). At this point, the disease has mostly been studied in a group of either self-selected men or athletes who died deaths that were consistent with CTE conditions. You could argue against these findings by saying correlation doesn’t imply causation. That’s why a true medical study needs to be done, one that would look at variables (was there prior mental illness or drug use) and different cross-sections of the population to come up with the definitive answer. 

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

None of that means there isn’t a link between CTE and the NFL, however. All it means is that the study of CTE is in its infancy and though there’s not enough research to make definitive statements about the disease and its causes, anyone should be able to recognize that a link is probable. If you don’t accept that hitting people with your head thousands of times during your life is going to have some impact on your brain, then chances are you won’t believe any real study either. This isn’t even like climate-change denial; it’s an abandonment of all common sense.

Jones still hides behind those semantics though. It’s entirely at the heart of his argument. "We have millions of people that have played this game, have millions of people that are at various ages right now that have no issues at all," he said.

Right. And all alcoholics don’t get liver disease, all smokers don’t get lung cancer and all drug users don’t overdose. That doesn’t mean there’s not a correlation between these things.

The NFL has improved in its concussion awareness over the past few years. (It wasn’t a high bar to clear.) Now the league should fund a real study of CTE so it can study how to make its game safer and let its players know the risks involved with playing. The longer they deny it, the worse it becomes.