“To do the types of studies they want to include in this way will take decades,” said Michael Grey, who teaches rehabilitation neuroscience at the University of East Anglia in England. “Are we supposed to wait decades and have tens of thousands of people suffer from neurodegeneration when we could be doing something about it now?”
A conference rule allows just 7 of the 29 writers to block language in the statement, potentially creating another barrier to the group agreeing to phrasing that links head trauma to C.T.E. The consensus-statement writers include many doctors who do not specialize in degenerative brain disease yet advise the N.H.L., Australian Football League and other leagues.
Cantu, one of the foremost researchers on C.T.E., followed Iverson with a 15-minute presentation in which he told the group that it had “kicked down the road” the issue of C.T.E. in their last two consensus statements, published in 2013 and 2017. He said that the cognitive, behavioral and mood issues associated with C.T.E. overlap with many other diseases, which make it hard to diagnose clinically.
But since 2016, he said there have been more than 100 papers a year published on C.T.E., including one he co-wrote this year with Chris Nowinski, a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience who co-founded the nonprofit Concussion Legacy Foundation, and other researchers. In it, they detailed their findings that there existed a high probability that repeated head trauma causes C.T.E. Their paper, he said, helped convince the N.I.H. to change its stance.
Nowinski and his colleague from the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Adam White, taunted the leaders of the conference by holding satirical drawings as they arrived.
Their posters featured smiling doctors in lab coats holding cigarettes, with “Enjoy repetitive head impacts” and “Don’t worry about CTE!” a parody of advertising in the 1940s and 1950s in which doctors promoted smoking.
“I’m there to remind them that if they don’t acknowledge a cause-and-effect relationship, a lot more people are going to get hurt and it’s going to ruin their reputations,” Nowinski said. “The problem is, if they say cause-and-effect is established, it will cost the organizers of the conference a lot of money in lawsuits.”