In May of 2012, former NFL linebacker Junior Seau took his own life by shooting himself in the chest. Seau was dealing with depression, mood swings and insomnia. An autopsy of Seau’s brain revealed that he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which Boston University’s CTE Center defines as “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” It’s a disease associated with dementia, and it can only be diagnosed posthumously.
After Seau’s suicide, CTE blossomed into the cultural lexicon. The NFL started to receive a wave of negative media attention, and the sport had become synonymous with CTE and concussions, which continues today. In a recent study, “new data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined,” according to PBS’ Frontline.
The conversation has shifted from the NFL to youth football after the implications of CTE were revealed, and a debate rages in regards to the appropriate age for tackle football. In response to the negative attention, the NFL created a program called Heads Up Football to teach coaches, parents, and athletes proper tackling technique. More than ever, parents are considering whether or not they would allow their children to play football—or choose what was then perceived as a relatively safer option like soccer.