- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I know everyone is very concerned about whether Kirk Cousins can stop throwing interceptions, or whether Matt Jones can hold onto the ball, or whether anyone on the Washington Redskins defense can get to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford on Sunday.

It’s all about football.

But I can’t stop thinking about the report from PBS’ “Frontline” that quietly came out two weeks ago that reported 87 out of 91 former NFL players tested positive for brain disease, according to the latest studies by researchers.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, was found in 96 percent of the deceased NFL players brains they examined. Yes, that’s right — researchers are cutting up the brains of dozens of dead NFL players to come up with the final price that they paid for football.

They cut open the brains of other players as well — those who played college or high school who have died — and the overall numbers showed that out of 165 brains they examined, 131 had CTE.

They’re all numbers, though. We’ve become numb to the numbers now, because they are so overwhelming, they have become too disturbing to face.

But I think about them now when I stand in the Redskins‘ locker room after a game, like the Sept. 20 win over the St. Louis Rams, and I wonder which one of these men will have brain damage when they are done playing.

Will it be Ricky Jean Francois, such a wonderful, spirited man who clearly has a sense of enjoyment of life and brings a smile to our face when he does his “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” dance after sacking a quarterback? Will it be Pierre Garcon, whose fierceness on the field has taken a little known receiver from Mount Union and turned him into a feared NFL receiver? Will it be Alfred Morris, who has endeared himself to us not only with his 1991 Mazda but also for the way he fights for every yard he can get when he is carrying the ball on the field?

If the latest numbers are any indication, most of those players in that locker room that we interview after a game will suffer — or already have suffered — brain damage from playing football.

We never ask after a game, “Ryan, how much damage do you think your brain suffered today making those five tackles?” Or, “Jordan, do you think you did any long-term damage to your brain fighting for that first down?”

We won’t, of course, because that’s not why we are there. Years from now, will any or all of them — and their families — be wondering if those tackles or yards after the catch were worth the price they paid?

Then those questions will be asked.

Will it be Robert Griffin III, who we believe sustained his third concussion in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions? Three concussions? How much brain tissue is damaged from three concussions?

The Griffin case illustrates how immune we have come to the issue, as if it is now like a pulled groin or hamstring. The Redskins turned the Griffin concussion diagnosis into a sideshow, with conflicting reports from doctors about whether or not the quarterback was cleared to play. It turned into such a farce that one doctor wound up resigning from the NFL’s consulting program for concussion diagnosis and clearance.

We all had a good laugh about that, didn’t we? But it wasn’t funny.

Maybe it’s the word itself — concussion. It’s become nearly meaningless, something we hear every Sunday as part of the injury rundown. For some, it is synonymous with lawsuits. When people think concussions, they think courtrooms and lawyers.

A Syracuse clinical psychologist who is nationally recognized for his research on concussion and brain damage believes the word concussion has become pretty much meaningless.

“I think it’s reached a point where ‘concussion’ and ‘head injury’ have become cover-up words,” Don Brady told The Syracuse Post-Standard. “We’ve got to call a brain injury a brain injury — and a concussion is a brain injury.

“We soft-peddle a brain injury when we use the term, concussion,” he said. “A concussion is a brain injury.”

When the latest results of the brain injury study were revealed, Dr. Ann McKee, the well-known researcher who is the director of the Boston center where these studies are taking place, spoke of the difficulty still, despite players committing suicide and their families donating their brains to be cut up for research, of getting people to accept the magnitude of the damage.

“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it,” McKee told “Frontline.” “My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.”

I have a problem identifying it, though. Which one of these players who I will interview on Sunday in the Redskins locker room will have brain damage?

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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