SAN FRANCISCO — The revelation on Wednesday that longtime NFL quarterbacks Kenny Stabler and Earl Morrall were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths made some headlines, but among players from the past and present who are congregating at the Super Bowl, it was pretty much expected news.
“No, it’s not a surprise,” Dolphins wide receiver Greg Jennings told Newsday when informed of the Stabler findings on Wednesday morning. “It’s real.”
“It’s almost a universal thing,” former Packers guard Jerry Kramer, who just turned 80, told Newsday.
Stabler, who died of colon cancer at 69 last July, had Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Dr. Ann McKee told The Associated Press. McKee said the disease was widespread throughout his brain, with “severe” damage to the regions involving learning, memory and regulation of emotion.
The diagnosis first was reported by The New York Times, which also reported that Morrall was found to have Stage 4 CTE after he died at 79 in April 2014.
While the letters CTE can be scary and have been linked to erratic and violent behavior, including suicide, in players such as Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, many players want more information before they start to panic.
“We need to study brain cells of people who have been in car wrecks or fallen off bikes,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb told Newsday. “They could have CTE, too. You can’t base it primarily on football players. It could be anybody. You need a broader view. We can talk about football players, and of course a lot of guys are starting to get it, but what exactly is that and what does it entail for our future?”
Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott told Newsday he believes he probably has CTE, although the disease can only be diagnosed by a posthumous examination of the brain. Lott also said he believes his father, who never played football, could have CTE. He suggested a large percentage of the general population has it at some level as well.
“From what I understand, statistically, if you played any type of sport, there are people who will have CTE whether you played it in college or high school or professionally,” Lott said. “The bigger question is what are we doing to combat the symptoms?”
Lott said he has been exploring ways to do just that. He uses techniques such as mindful meditation, holistic exercises and better nutrition to stave off the effects which may or may not be in his brain.
“We were able to discover this disease, now we have to combat it,” Lott said. “To me, that’s the next step and the next evolution of football. Hopefully, in Super Bowl 60 we’re talking about the things that people are doing [to combat the symptoms of CTE], and hopefully at that point it will allow us to be even better athletes and better human beings.”
Even as the Broncos prepared for the biggest game of the year, they were asked about concussions, CTE and Stabler (Morrall’s diagnosis was unreported at the time of their media availability).
“Ken Stabler was a friend of my dad [Archie Manning],” Peyton Manning said. “I haven’t had time to process the information. What a prince of a guy. What a great leader. I have heard John Madden talk about him a number of times. He truly was one of a kind.”
The NFL’s annual health and safety update and interactive head health technology showcase, which will provide “a brief update on the league’s health and safety efforts, including the next frontier of research and development in head health,” is scheduled for Thursday. Last week the NFL announced the number of concussions diagnosed in 2015 had increased by 32 percent from the previous year.
Many players have pointed to the concussion issue as an impetus for recent changes in the sport of football. “I really think the concussion information, that’s going to play a major part in what football becomes in the next few years and 10 years from now,” Cobb said.
Kramer said he is on the lookout for symptoms that have attacked his friends and former teammates.
“I had several concussions and I don’t have much of a memory problem at this time,” he said. “But I’m short-tempered and I’m not real full of energy at times and I do some silly things once in a while. I have some of the symptoms of it, but so far my boards seem to be working pretty well.”
Still, when Kramer thinks about the league’s history regarding the topic — including the story of Mike Webster and Dr. Bennet Omalu that is depicted in the movie “Concussion” — he becomes more than angry.
Said Kramer: “It makes me puke.”