President Trump had an awful lot to say about the NFL this weekend — and not just about players who did not stand for the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the United States. Largely lost in the kerfuffle were comments Trump made suggesting the NFL’s player safety rules are “ruining the game.”
“Fifteen yards, throw him out of the game,” he said at a Friday night rally in Alabama. “They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really beautiful tackle, boom, 15 yards. The referee gets on television, his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him — they’re ruining the game. Right? They’re ruining the game. Hey look, that’s what they want to do. They want to hit, but it is hurting the game.”
On Tuesday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a longtime advocate for player safety, shot back, deriding Trump for “encouraging increased violence in football.”
“These comments endanger player safety and completely contradict extensive scientific study,” Schakowsky said in a letter to Trump, reminding him of the adverse health effects of concussions, which Trump did not mention Friday but has downplayed before.
“Concussions are much more than ‘a little ding on the head,’ as you said during your campaign,” she wrote. “Even repeated and sub-concussive blows to the head, commonplace in football, have been shown to cause lasting neurodegenerative diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This serious disease includes symptoms of impulse control problems, aggression, depression and paranoia. As time passes, CTE continues to degenerate the brain, resulting in memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment and eventually progressive dementia.”
Attached to the letter, Schakowsky included links to congressional testimony about concussions in sports, as well as a recent study that found an alarming rate of CTE in former NFL players.
The testimony, from a May 13, 2016, hearing held by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, pertained to youth sports, including testimony from experts linking brain injuries to CTE. The study, meanwhile, which was conducted by Boston University’s renowned CTE Center, focused on former NFL players and found evidence of CTE in 99 percent of the cases studied.
“It is inexcusable to deride systemic efforts to improve player safety,” Schakowsky wrote to Trump, whose comments came a day after BU’s CTE Center diagnosed Aaron Hernandez, who committed suicide while serving a life sentence for murder in April, with one of the severest forms of CTE. “There are real consequences for your reckless comments, and players will pay the price. The time for denying facts and looking the other way is over.”
Compared to the widespread reactions Trump received from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL owners, reaction to his Friday comments about public safety has been few and far between. They did elicit a response from Joe Lockhart, the NFL executive vice president of communications and public affairs, who called Trump’s comments on safety “out of touch.”
Before that, DeMaurice Smith, the NFL Players’ Association head, also stuck up for player safety rules, noting in a statement that also addressed the protests that the union “will never back down” when it comes to protecting the rights of “men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risk.”