FIREBAUGH, Calif. – Each year, the NFL's incoming rookie class grows increasingly aware of the long-term risks of brain trauma.
Young players have surrendered jobs to avoid accumulating injuries that could lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head.
Canisius High grad and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel was 26 and had a year remaining on his contract when he abruptly retired last July over future CTE concerns.
Bills linebacker A.J. Tarpley retired two years ago at 23 even though he played 15 games and started two as a rookie. San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, a third-round draft choice, was 24 when he walked away a few months after playing 14 games, starting eight as a rookie.
The CTE Center, an independent academic research center at Boston University, explains on its website the disease "is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse-control problems, aggression, depression and eventually progressive dementia."
While in Josh Allen's hometown to conduct interviews for this week's five-part "You bloom where you're planted" series about the Buffalo Bills' new quarterback, I asked him where he stood on the issue.
The conversation took place while he and his father Joe Allen sat in armchairs in the family's Allen Ranch office. It turned into a conversation between them.
Joel: I've done some research on it. I know he's taken some pretty good shots at the collegiate level. You've had, what, three concussions?
Josh: Zero. (Forms a "0" with his hand.)
Joel: Well, he's had three major hits.
Josh: (Shakes his head emphatically and gives me a bemused Jim Halpert-style camera glance.)
Joel: And they were all very scary, but the equipment ...
Josh: No. (Forms a 0 with his hand.) Zero.
Joel: OK, well, as a father you sit there and hold your breath, hoping your son gets up. It's always been a concern, but with the technology they've done a good job in protecting the players, and the NFL has been proactive with the concussion protocol.
Josh: I know what I signed up for. It's a beautifully violent game. I think if you ask a lot of players in the NFL, they worry about it, but they love the game too much. It's a game that provides for their families. It provides them a platform to talk to kids and be the voice of a generation. But as far as all that concussion stuff goes, quarterbacks aren't getting hit too often. When we do it's in the back and the side, landing on body parts. We're not taking a lot of helmet-to-helmet hits. They've done a good job of protecting the quarterback. The equipment is getting better. But I think the people who love this game play it for a reason, and those concerns don't scare them too much.
Joel: Quarterbacks have more of an opportunity to be in the NFL for a lot longer than other positions, right?
Josh: Oh, yeah. Easy.