On Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, Frank Gifford’s family revealed that their football star took his place alongside many others – indelibly marked by the degenerative disease caused by traumatic brain injury, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Medical testing for CTE can only be performed after death.
Gifford’s family released a statement through NBC News that they had “made the difficult decision to have his brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury.”
“We decided to disclose our loved one’s condition to honor Frank’s legacy of promoting player safety dating back to his involvement in the formation of the NFL Players Association in the 1950s.”
Frank Gifford was an all-star New York Giants running back, defensive back, wide receiver and special teams player from 1952 throughout his career. Frank took a knock-out hit in a game in November 1960 when Philadelphia Eagle linebacker Chuck Bednarik crushed him.
A motionless Gifford was hospitalized for almost 2 weeks and sidelined until 1962. Frank was named the NFL MVP in 1956 and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. After retiring in 1964, he began a 27-year career as a newscaster on Monday Night Football.
Frank’s wife, Kathie Lee Gifford, is a host of NBC’s morning show “Today.” The statement mentioned that in later life Frank “experienced firsthand” the agonizing symptoms of CTE. “Our suspicions that he was suffering from the debilitating effects of head trauma were confirmed.”
CTE is the son of football. Modern medicine has found thousands of traces of gridiron hits in two distinct places: first within the rising tide of misery of damaged living players, and then within the delicate cradle of consciousness, inside the cranium of players, treasure sacrificed for the cheering crowd – the brain.
CTE in football players was first discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu in a detailed autopsy he performed on Mike Webster, another football great whose early death at 50 in 2002 after 245 games in the NFL left him the symbol of brain injury – the tragic dark side of the game plaguing the NFL, college recruiters, high school coaches, moms and dads and school boards.
Dr. Omalu published results of findings of CTE that caught the wrath of the NFL. Since the evidence is coming to light through research at Boston University CTE Center, CTE has been found in 87 of the 91 former NFL players whose brains have been examined. More than 150 living players have offered their brains for examination after their death.
In April this year PBS Frontline reported on the discovery of CTE by the neuro-pathologist. Will Smith will star in Concussion, a film to be released this Christmas, putting the problem into perspective with the benefit of scientific researchers into the long-term cognitive and behavioral efficacy after so many hits.
When Chris Borland chose to walk away from the allure of fortune in football, he turned heads. Borland’s decision in March this year came after so many reports in the medical realm. Borland chose the rainbow of connectedness – the curious, reflective, creative and cognitive. He left the pot of gold behind as he released his life from the prison of Prime-Time Performer. He moved on.
School districts are evaluating what other kinds of torture we might invent that use tax dollars to support the mutual bashing of children’s heads against each other with such spirited backing and community encouragement in order to inflict a lifetime of damage on those kids in the other colored jersey in the next school.