In a landmark study concerning chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the results of which were published in the internationally-renowned and peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Ann C. McKee et al. conducted neuropathological evaluations of 202 deceased football players whose brains were donated for research purposes. Overall, Dr. McKee et al. made 177 post-mortem CTE diagnoses. Of the 111 NFL players analyzed, 110 were found to have CTE.
Scientifically speaking, some of the greatest neuroscientists on the planet have provided compelling evidence that demonstrates the devastating-long term health effects associated with football (and most troubling, at all levels, since the youngest player in this study was only 23). In light of these findings, why should Roethlisberger make a lengthy commitment to the Steelers?
Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame status was cemented years ago. He is statistically one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history and he has delivered two Super Bowls to Pittsburgh. Most importantly, he has accrued nearly $160 million in cash earnings, which should soften the blow of leaving another $40 million or so on the table by calling it quits before his 36th birthday.
The decision to retire despite being in relatively good health would not be unprecedented. Patrick Willis, Calvin Johnson and D’Brickashaw Ferguson all retired at age 32 or younger due to injury concerns. So, too, did Chris Borland, just one year into his NFL career. This offseason, Baltimore’s John Urschel (who possesses arguably the most valuable brain in the NFL) ended his career at age 26 in light of Dr. McKee et al.’s report. Branden Albert, who has played in 118 career games, retired abruptly at age 32 before taking a single snap with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While Albert has not specifically pointed to the JAMA study, the timing of his retirement decision is peculariar, especially given that he skipped offseason training activities in the hopes of getting a new contract.
Players are clearly worried, and Roethlisberger seems to be among them. It appears as if the remainder of his career will be on a year-by-year basis.