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Former NFL Running Back Merril Hoge Talks About CTE Research

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Merril Hoge retired from an eight-year NFL career as a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears because he experienced complications from head injuries.

The 22-year ESPN analyst has set out to spread his side of the CTE concussion debate that surrounds football in a new book, Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE and the Plot to Destroy Football.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a condition of brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas.

Why take on CTE research?

He said being a concerned parent who played a lot of football is what sparked his journey to publish this book during an interview with Scott Mitchell on the Helmets Off podcast.

He called the current CTE research “science fiction,” and claimed there is no scientific evidence that concussion causes or is linked to CTE. That is the focus of the book he wrote with contributions from Peter Cummings, MD, a board certified forensic neuropathologist.

Listen to the audio:

Cummings penned the popular and controversial Yahoo Sports op-ed titled, “I am a brain scientist and I let my son play football” last year. In the op-ed he defended his decision to let his 11-year-old son play football and described his journey to that decision.

Hoge credited Cummings with helping him break down and understand the science into something he could more easily explain to parents to families and write in his book.

Hoge’s Own Concussions

During the interview Mitchell asked Hoge if he was ever concerned about long term effects from his own brain injury.

“No, not one bit am I concerned about it,” Hoge answered.

After his retirement, Hoge sued a team doctor of the Chicago Bears for allegedly mishandling his care and failing to warn him of the severity of his concussions.

He said he believed that concerned parents should put their focus elsewhere. His suggestion? Eliminate sugar and encourage your kids to be more active.

Current CTE Research

Mitchell asked about the study that made waves last year in which scientists concluded 110 out of 111 brains of former NFL Football players had CTE.

Hoge called the study, “more flawed than you could possibly imagine.”

His critique? The study was too small in scope.

“There’s 27,000 former NFL players,” he said. “You have to actually look at every brain to get any sense or direction of that impact.”

Hoge described the moment his son, BYU quarterback Beau Hoge, decided he wanted to start playing football.

“The first thing I was excited about was, ‘I’m going to create a better, safer environment for him to play in,’” he said.

Thoughts for Parents

He told Mitchell about the head trauma protocol program he started that became part of the youth football program he is involved with.

Hoge said he told his youth team on their first day of practice, “Football is a tough game for tough people, but it’s also a smart game for intelligent people.”

He made sure they understood that if they got hurt, they would address it and not just pretend they were okay. He told Mitchell that his teams don’t tackle during practice.

Hoge said he wants parents who are concerned about their kids playing football because of concussion and CTE to consider that a concussion can happen anywhere during any activity, like slipping in the shower (where his son got his first concussion) or jumping on a trampoline.

“This is best environment in the history of our sport to ever play it…first of the all equipment we have today, our equipment was paper mache compared to what they have today, protocol, we had no protocol for 90 years.”

Listen to the audio:

Watch the entire interview:

Mitchell gave some additional thoughts about the book and CTE research on KSL’s Unrivaled with co-host Alex Kirry. Both of them are parents of children who play football.

Listen to the discussion here: