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Opinion: Contact sports cause CTE. So why are Americans watching more football than ever?

Opinion: Contact sports cause CTE. So why are Americans watching more football than ever?


Contact sports have long been a source of entertainment and excitement for millions of Americans. From football to boxing, the allure of witnessing athletes push their physical limits has captivated audiences for decades. However, a growing body of research suggests that these contact sports may have severe consequences for the brain, most notably chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Despite this knowledge, American viewership of contact sports, particularly football, continues to rise. This article aims to explore the paradox between the known risks of CTE and the increasing popularity of contact sports in the United States.

Understanding CTE

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, is a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head trauma. It has received significant attention in recent years due to its association with contact sports, particularly football. CTE is characterized by the accumulation of an abnormal protein called tau in the brain, leading to cognitive decline, memory loss, mood swings, and even suicidal thoughts. The link between contact sports and CTE has become a cause for concern, especially considering the long-term health implications for athletes.

The Rise of Football

Football, America’s most popular sport, has seen a surge in popularity over the years. According to Nielsen ratings, the average number of viewers for NFL games has steadily increased, reaching an all-time high in recent seasons. This begs the question: why are Americans watching more football than ever, despite the known risks of CTE?

Cultural Significance

One possible explanation is the cultural significance of football in American society. Football has become deeply ingrained in American culture, with traditions like tailgating, Super Bowl parties, and fantasy football leagues bringing people together. For many, watching football is not just about the game itself but also about the sense of community and identity it fosters. The emotional connection people have to their favorite teams and players can overshadow concerns about potential brain injuries.

Inadequate Awareness

Another factor contributing to the rise in football viewership is the inadequate awareness surrounding CTE. While public awareness of the condition has grown in recent years, many people still do not fully grasp the long-term consequences of repeated head trauma. Lack of education and media coverage on the topic may lead viewers to underestimate the risks involved, allowing them to continue enjoying the sport without fully considering the potential harm to the athletes.

Escapism and Entertainment

Contact sports, including football, offer a form of escapism and entertainment for viewers. Sports provide an outlet for excitement, emotions, and a break from the realities of everyday life. The physicality and raw competition found in contact sports can be thrilling for fans, even if the players themselves face potential health risks. The desire for entertainment and the thrill of the game often outweigh concerns about the long-term effects on athletes’ health.

The Role of Regulation and Safety Measures

It is essential to acknowledge the measures taken by sports leagues to address player safety. In recent years, organizations like the National Football League (NFL) have implemented rule changes and safety protocols to reduce the risk of head injuries. From stricter concussion protocols to improved helmet technology, efforts have been made to protect players and reduce the incidence of CTE. While these measures are commendable, they might not fully mitigate the risks associated with contact sports.


The paradox between the known risks of CTE and the increasing popularity of contact sports, particularly football, in the United States raises important questions. While there is a growing body of evidence linking contact sports to CTE, cultural significance, inadequate awareness, and the allure of escapism and entertainment seem to outweigh concerns for many viewers. It is crucial for society to strike a balance between enjoying contact sports and safeguarding the long-term health of athletes. Continued research, education, and improved safety measures will be essential in addressing this complex issue and ensuring the well-being of those who participate in and watch contact sports.

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