By The Sports Xchange
INDIANAPOLIS (CBS4) – Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts is another NFL owner not convinced of a link between CTE and football.
Two weeks ago, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, acknowledged that a link exists between head trauma caused by playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Miller admitted such a link exists while participating in a discussion on concussions that was organized by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Some owners since have disputed Miller’s admission of the CTE-football link caused by repeated blows to the head.
First, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at the league’s owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., last week that it is “absurd” to believe there is a connection between playing football and developing ailments such as CTE.
Now, Irsay told the Sports Business Journal much is not known about the side effects of participating in the sport, comparing it to what someone might experience from taking aspirin.
Irsay made his comments to the publication at the owners meetings and the Sports Business Journal published excerpts from the conversation on Monday.
“I can’t say I agree with that comment,” Irsay told Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal regarding Miller’s remarks. “To say you know all of a sudden there is a suicide or a murder, and to say, ‘Oh, that is football.’ I mean, that is completely ludicrous. It’s not just true. There is so much we don’t know. Whether you are dealing with Alzheimer’s, whether dealing with contact sports with concussions that can come into play, you know, we don’t know enough about it.
“I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are. Look at it. You take an aspirin, I take an aspirin, it might give you extreme side effects of illness and your body … may reject it, where I would be fine. So there is so much we don’t know.”
Irsay referred to bobsledding several times during the interview as a sport that, like football, poses dangers to its participants.
“Look at it: When you get into Olympic bobsledding — I could sit down and name a dozen different sports — it has always been a known factor that you know you are going in there and you are taking a risk,” Irsay said.
Irsay disputes claims that the NFL knew of post-career health problems for players in the 1960s or 1970s.
“I was there. I know that’s a lie,” Irsay said. “You know no one knew anything. The only thing we know and always knew is when you strap on that helmet and go out on the field, boy you know you are taking a risk, but the reward is something. It’s worth it.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the league office did not dispute Miller’s admission about the link to CTE.
“We think the statements that have been made through Jeff Miller and others have been consistent with our position over the years,” Goodell said at the owners meetings.
Irsay told the Sports Business Journal the NFL is trying to make the game safer “without changing the game.”
“Obviously we are not going to go to a situation where we put players in almost balloon-like equipment, where it becomes a pillow fight, so to speak,” Irsay said.
“To try to tie football, like I said, to suicides or murders or what have you, I believe that is just so absurd as well and it is harmful to other diseases, harmful to things like … when you get into the use of steroids, when you get into substance abuse, you get into the illness of alcohol and addiction.
“It’s a shame that gets missed, because there (are) very deadly diseases there, for instance, like alcoholism and addiction. That gets pushed to the side and (a person) says, ‘Oh, no. Football.’ To me, that’s really absurd.”
Irsay has had to overcome his own addiction problems, checking into rehab in 2014 after he was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He later was suspended six games and fined the maximum allowed under the NFL constitution after he pleaded guilty in a Noblesville, Ind., court to one misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Jones later attempted to clarify his comments, saying that the NFL has not significantly changed its stance.
“All I said was that we (the NFL) have not changed,” Jones told ESPN.com. “That is not an indication that we’ve changed anything or it’s not something we just started the last several years. We’ve been looking at ways to improve the safety, looking for ways to assist in research and acting on it. So from that standpoint, I think the question was, ‘Have you changed your direction in the NFL?’ And the answer to that is no.”
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson has used softer terms to reach a similar conclusion.
“I am not in a position (to talk about the link between CTE and football),” Johnson said. “I am a layman. (Jeff Miller) is a layman as well.”