If you listened to Jeffrey Orridge on Friday, he says the NFL has it all wrong. Doctors studying the brains of dead football players are wrong. Those entrusted with health and safety are dead wrong.
Eight months after the National Football League acknowledged there is a link between its billion-dollar game and neurodegenerative diseases that have seen so many former players in poor health, the CFL commissioner repeatedly denied any connection between the sport and conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
“The League’s position is that there is no conclusive evidence” between football and brain diseases such as CTE, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Orridge said in his State of the League address at Grey Cup in Toronto.
When pressed on the matter, Orridge added this: “The last I heard, it’s still a subject of debate in the medical and scientific community.”
Orridge’s statements sent shockwaves through the football community, and even down to the United States and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the organization that in collaboration with Boston University has studied the deceased brains of more than 275 former athletes.
In an interview with Sportsnet on Friday afternoon, Concussion Legacy Foundation executive director Chris Nowinski said Orridge is “misleading CFL players and the football community” with his statements.
“No serious scientist is disputing there’s a link,” Nowinski said. “When you find CTE in (brains of) 200 football players, and that’s not found in the brains of the general population, there’s a link.
“People in football leadership have to stop telling the people this is not something you should be concerned about. It’s a big problem. It’s a very destructive disease.”
As of last fall, CTE had been diagnosed in 87 of the 91 brains of former NFL players studied by the group at Boston University. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in people, mainly former pro athletes, who have had a severe blow or repeated blows to the head. At this point, it can only be diagnosed posthumously.
“It’s no longer appropriate to say there’s not a proven link,” Nowinski said.
CFL Players Association head Brian Ramsay, in a press conference at a Toronto hotel, called Orridge’s comments “disappointing and frustrating.”
After Ottawa’s final Grey Cup practice, Redblacks linebacker Taylor Reed didn’t quite know how to react.
“I think there’s a link,” said Reed. “Did he go into detail how there isn’t one? How that can be?”
Orridge had also said Friday, “it’s still a matter of debate and discourse as to what the linkage may be.”
“Interesting,” said Reed, glancing away. “If you ask my opinion, I think football definitely does.”
Nowinski says there is no debate, no opinion necessary anymore.
“This is a game people are signing their children up for,” he said. “To mislead them is a bad mistake.”