Widgets Magazine


Stanford vs. CTE

Last Friday was the first day of fall. Many of us in the Stanford community went through our days in breathless anticipation. Nope, I’m not talking about the start of fall quarter 2017. I’m talking about last Saturday’s Stanford vs. UCLA football game.

I don’t pretend to be a football aficionado. By virtue of being an American and a longtime denizen of the Bay Area, I’ve always regarded football as the soundtrack of fall, the constant background noise from September through January and now, unfortunately, February.

I don’t care much about football, but I do care about Stanford students. I keep asking myself: Doesn’t Stanford care about Stanford students? Or perhaps I should rephrase: What is Stanford Athletics doing to protect its football players from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)?

CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma to the head. It can lead to memory loss, the inability to concentrate, early dementia and mood swings. Those with more advanced CTE have difficulty controlling their impulses and demonstrate aggressive behavior. A recent study of the brains of 111 former professional football players revealed that 110 of these players had developed CTE. The same study, conducted by Dr. Ann McGee, director of Boston University’s CTE center, revealed that 48 of 53 former college football players also had CTE. Certainly, more studies need to be done. Yet regardless of any given college player’s “odds” of developing CTE, its cause is well known. There is no cure.

Just days ago, Boston University’s CTE center revealed that Aaron Hernandez, the 27-year-old former University of Florida football star, suffered from an advanced case of CTE. Hernandez killed himself in prison after being convicted of murder. Researchers have linked CTE to Hernandez’s suicide and the suicides of many others who played football at the high school, college and/or professional level.

Stanford athletes, like their classmates, represent some of the brightest, most promising members of their generation. After their days playing for Stanford are over, most student-athletes will become active, contributing members of their communities and our democracy. They need their minds; we need their minds.

Stanford Athletics, arguably the most respected name in college sports, cannot “ban” CTE. So what will it do to safeguard the mental and physical health of our students? The world is watching.

— Valerie Kinsey ’98

Valerie Kinsey is a lecturer in the Education as Self-Fashioning (ESF) program and the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR). Contact her at valeriekinsey ‘at’ stanford.edu.