Jim Irsay isn't the only NFL owner denying the link between playing in the NFL and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. However, the Indianapolis Colts owner apparently feels strongly that it's unfair to jump to conclusions about any link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the NFL. His daughter, Carlie Irsay-Gordon, vice chair and co-owner of the team, seems to agree.
Soon after Jeff Miller became the first major NFL official to acknowledge there's a connection between football and CTE, Irsay tried to de-emphasize it. Irsay suggested to the Sports Business Journal that there's still much to learn about CTE, and perhaps it just affects different people in different ways.
"I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are. Look at it," Irsay said. "You take an aspirin, I take an aspirin, it might give you extreme side effects of illness and your body ... may reject it, where I would be fine. So there is so much we don't know."
Those comments are similar to what Irsay-Gordon told Glamour Magazine in 2015, when she said that she's not sure teams should bear so much responsibility for preventing head injuries to players.
"Every year we look at ways to make it as safe as possible, but you reach a limit," she said. "[And] some of these guys believe [the risk] is worth it, or they love it enough to do it. So you try to encourage a culture where the guys feel comfortable with our medical staff; they need to tell us about their injuries when they come up.
"The issue now is, depending on how their contract is structured, if they have performance incentives, they'll want to play anyway and they'll try to hide it. So is that our responsibility?"
There were 271 concussions reported in the NFL during the 2015 season, and of those, just eight occurred during a regular season practice, according to Pro Football Talk. This is, in part, because the current Collective Bargaining Agreement places stringent limits on contact in practice in an effort to prevent injuries, including concussions. The owners approved those CBA changes in 2011.
The father and daughter also agreed that football players know the risks when they choose to pursue a career in the NFL. They're not wrong. Players know they risk bodily injury and harm every day in this field. What players may not be fully aware of, however, is the scope of symptoms they may be dealing with in later years as a result of CTE.
Both Irsay and Irsay-Gordon thought other things could be blamed for issues currently attributed to CTE, particularly drug and alcohol addiction.
"A lot of these guys that are claiming they're having these concussion issues, they have alcohol or drug problems that are just going to compound it," Irsay-Gordon said.
Jim Irsay, who has publicly battled addiction and served a six-game suspension and paid a $500,000 fine after a drug-related arrest, expressed a similar sentiment.
"To try to tie football, like I said, to suicides or murders or what have you, I believe that is just so absurd as well and it is harmful to other diseases, harmful to things like ... when you get into the use of steroids, when you get into substance abuse, you get into the illness of alcohol and addiction," Irsay said. "It's a shame that gets missed, because there [are] very deadly diseases there, for instance, like alcoholism and addiction. That gets pushed to the side and [a person] says, ‘Oh, no. Football.' To me, that's really absurd."
They also pointed to other sports, such as Olympic bobsledding and rugby, that pose injury risks as a sort of justification for the perspective that players should understand the risks of injury and try to avoid injury by playing smart.
And, of course, there's one surefire way for NFL players to avoid developing CTE, according to Irsay-Gordon.
"But [they] could do another job," Irsay-Gordon said.
Research strongly suggests a link between playing in the NFL and developing CTE. The league continues to downplay the connection, but there's enough information currently available that it makes perspectives like these seem irresponsible at best, and callous at worst.