The Slatest

Frank Gifford Had CTE, His Family Says, as Doctors Call for End of High School Football

Frank Gifford at the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame Awards in New York City on Oct. 20, 2009.

Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images

Former New York Giants star and NFL broadcaster Frank Gifford suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, his family announced in a statement on Wednesday. (Gifford passed away in August of this year.) The news coincides with the pre-publication of an editorial in the prestigious American Journal of Bioethics calling for an end to public school tackle football programs.

CTE is only diagnosable after death and has been discovered in nearly 90 NFL players whose brains were donated to science. Some of these players showed symptoms of memory loss, depression, and dementia while they were alive.

While Gifford’s family did not report what symptoms he had, they said in a statement that they had decided to have his brain examined because he was a champion of player health and had experienced symptoms firsthand:

During the last years of his life Frank dedicated himself to understanding the recent revelations concerning the connection between repetitive head trauma and its associated cognitive and behavioral symptoms—which he experienced firsthand. We miss him every day, now more than ever, but find comfort in knowing that by disclosing his condition we might contribute positively to the ongoing conversation that needs to be had; that he might be an inspiration for others suffering with this disease that needs to be addressed in the present; and that we might be a small part of the solution to an urgent problem concerning anyone involved with football, at any level.

The Journal of Bioethics article, co-written by doctors Steven H. Miles and Shailendra Prasad, is framed as a rebuttal to the American Association of Pediatrics’ endorsement of youth tackle football safety reforms, an endorsement which Miles and Prasad (reasonably) interpret to mean that the AAP believes the game itself is a legitimate activity for minors to engage in. Given documented rates of head injuries, the Journal of Bioethics authors say, a more reasonable position is that the game is too dangerous to deserve the official imprimatur that an association with high schools provides it. “The medical community,” the authors say, “could help students, schools and society leave a sport on which the sun is setting.”