A Florida father believes his years playing high school and college football gave him Parkinson’s disease – but he still proudly watches his son from the sidelines.
Vincent Wright, of Tampa Bay, is only in his 40s but his symptoms are already severe, with heavy shakes and sleeplessness, for which he takes daily medication.
But speaking to 10 News WTSP, he insists he is not concerned for his son Payton, who plays for the Blue Jackets at Admiral Farragut Academy in St Petersburg, and is part of a large concussion study.
‘To me, it’s very simple,’ Wright says. ‘Thirty years ago, we didn’t know what concussions were all about.’
Now that we know repeated head hits trigger incurable neurodegenerative disease, he feels his son will be better protected.
Vincent Wright, of Tampa Bay, is only in his 40s but his symptoms are severe, with heavy shakes. But he loves to watch his son Payton play for the school team. Payton is part of a major CTE study in kids (file image)
‘To be a football player, I get choked up.… It’s a big deal,’ Wright says.
Payton is one of 93 players being studied by Johns Hopkins researchers, who are tracking the types of hits the players endure, and monitoring their health over the span of three years.
Using monitors fixed to their helmets, the researchers will be able to note down the velocity, angle and force of the impact. Through regular brain scans, they will be able to see how this is having an impact.
It is part of a burgeoning field of research into the links between football tackles and neurodegenerative disease, as the first generation of players who used helmets ( in the 1960s), and could therefore tackle harder and more regularly, get older and sicker.
We now know that repeated head hits set in motion a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or, CTE), which causes dementia, aggression, and suicidal thoughts, among other things.
There is no way to diagnose it during life, but scientists are racing to do so.
Several high profile cases have spurred this along. Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots tight end who took his own life while serving a life sentence in prison for murder, was found to have the worst case of CTE ever detected at the age of just 27.
In the wake of Hernandez’s death, and a few high profile research papers from Boston University’s CTE unit, the number of kids playing youth football started to dip.
But recently, there has been a push back. Former Steelers player Merril Hoge, who retired with concussion symptoms, is promoting a new book, Brainwashed, in which he claims the mere idea of CTE exisiting is based on ‘bad science’.
In an op-ed for Yahoo, Hoge and his co-author Peter Cummings, MD wrote that they believe ‘the “football causes CTE” connection will be revealed as the pseudoscience that it is.’
Their voices are drops in a much bigger ocean of evidence to the contrary, but they represent the NFL’s vehement perspective, as leaders in the incredibly lucrative franchise fight to prevent a decline in fandom.
It’s clear from fathers like Vincent Wright, though, that the lifetime of love for the sport is not going to be diminished, whether the science holds true or not.
‘I can’t sleep past 6am on game day. I have to take almost double my medication by the time the game gets here because my adrenaline is running so high,’ Wright said.