Trying to start a discussion about chronic traumatic encephalopathy in pro football is like trying to start an argument over religion.
Nobody’s mind is going to be changed, everyone’s going to walk away angry, and if two famous people do it, it’ll light up the media the way your dog lights up when you say the word “walk” around it.
Case in point, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady brought up CTE in December when he went on Westwood One Sports with Jim Gray and said, “My brain is wired for contact.”
Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson heard Brady’s remarks and mentioned them when he went on WEEI-FM in Boston on Thursday to talk about New England’s playoff game Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
On “Felger and Mazz,” Johnson ripped Brady, calling his comments “irresponsible.”
“I’ll be honest, and I love Tom,” he said. “It made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.”
Continuing his line of thought, Johnson said, “I have to say it, it was very irresponsible for Tom to talk like that. OK, ‘My brain’s wired for contact.’ So, what, Kevin Turner’s wasn’t? Junior Seau’s wasn’t? Justin Strzelczyk’s brain wasn’t? Andre Waters’ brain wasn’t wired for contact? But yours is?
“So, it was very insensitive and I thought irresponsible to talk like that.”
All of the players Johnson mentioned died either by their own hand or by medical complications that the players and their doctors believed to be related to head trauma from playing professional football.
Critics of the CTE hypothesis would say that the plural of anecdote is not data, and the two sides continue a battle reminiscent of an offensive and defensive line in a football game after the snap.
Speaking of Stzelczyk, his name came up the last time this sort of battle flared up in the news, when his widow, Keana McMahon, criticized New York Jets safety Jamal Adams in 2017 for saying, “Literally, if I had the perfect place to die, I’d die on the field.”
Brady’s original comments are, however, worthy of examination in their own right.
“First of all, I’ve been doing it a long time, so your body gets used to the hits,” he told Gray. “The brain understands the position you’re putting your body into. My brain is wired for contact. In some ways, it’s become calloused to some of the hits.
“Based on all the pliability treatments I do, my muscles just absorb the forces and disperse the forces as well as they ever have. I take hits better now at 41 than I did when I was 25. I train that way; I made it a priority in my life and think about it on a daily basis. It’s so important for me because I look around at the locker room, I look around at guys in the league and I realize they’re playing at such a disadvantage because of what I’m able to do and how I’m able to treat my body.
“It actually gives me a lot of confidence. I look at certain hits in the game I see on film, and people go, ‘God, did that hurt a lot?’ and I’ll say ‘No, I didn’t really even feel it.’
“It is just from all the work I’m putting in, understanding the things I need to do to prepare my body. I do it year round. It really works for anything. It works for me for football. Skiing I feel the same way. I could play basketball, any activity that I want to do, I feel like my body is so prepared to do it.”
The theme running through Brady’s comments isn’t about CTE, it’s about the feel-good, motivational-speaker, mind-over-matter “TB12” method stuff that got Brady’s personal trainer banned from the Patriots’ locker room by coach Bill Belichick and the team’s medical staff.
If anything is “irresponsible” about Brady’s comments, it’s his efforts to undermine the team’s medical staff by promoting what any qualified NFL trainer or board-certified medical professional would dismiss as quackery.
Which, in turn, is at the root of the stories allegedly coming out of the Patriots’ locker room more and more often over the last two seasons in which a separation has been created between the golden boy quarterback, the coach and the other 52 guys on the roster.
And that, more than whether Brady has a magic brain that is immune to becoming what boxers have always called “punch drunk,” is the real point at issue getting buried under Ted Johnson’s perception of Brady’s original comments.
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