DENVER (KDVR) — Retired Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer and his former teammate and tight end Jeb Putzier both told the Problem Solvers they will likely donate their brains to science to further research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head hits.
Putzier, who now lives in Overland Park, Kansas, told FOX31 he suspects he sustained more than 1,000 concussions from a lifetime of football.
“I have trouble with my eyes. It’s hard for me. I don’t read left to right like that anymore. I was an English literature major and I can’t read anymore,” Putzier said.
The 43-year-old, who retired in 2010 after nine professional seasons, wonders if he’ll have a shorter lifespan because of football injuries, especially concussions.
“More than likely, I mean, I would imagine so,” said Putzier, who added he spends much of his days now doing physical therapy for his body, but especially his brain.
Would NFL fund alternative CTE research?
Putzier’s friend and former teammate, Plummer said he once had second thoughts about whether he should have ever played the game.
“Oh, yeah. When I got out of the league and I had hip surgeries, and Junior Seau took his life and I went and watched the movie ‘Concussion.’ Yeah, I was starting to wonder why I even played the game,” Plummer said.
Today, Plummer has a new attitude about CTE and is convinced he will never develop the debilitating disease in part because of the organic mushrooms he grows at the MyCoLove farm in Fort Lupton.
“The damage I did, I believe I can reverse that damage. I feel I can heal my body,” said Plummer, who treats himself with a liquid mushroom extract.
While the NFL has donated $30 million towards brain research, Plummer wishes the league would fund research into alternative treatments as well, be it medical marijuana, hemp oils or the mushrooms he grows.
“Taking the billions of dollars they have into researching things like Lion’s Mane (mushrooms) and seeing if it could reverse dementia, reverse Alzheimer’s,” Plummer said.
Study: 99% of football players found with CTE after death
Results from a 2017 Boston University study found 99%, or 110 out of 111 former NFL players who donated their brain to science, were diagnosed with CTE after death.
Earlier this year, an autopsy confirmed former Broncos player Demaryius Thomas had Stage 2 CTE when he died last December at the age of 33. His official cause of death was seizure disorder complications. Thomas had suffered from seizures following a 2019 car crash.
Thomas is one of more than 300 former NFL players who have been diagnosed with CTE by the Boston University CTE Center research team.
Last month, the National Institutes of Health acknowledged for the first time a causal link between repeated blows to the head and CTE.
“People in professional sports and even in college sports will sustain hundreds or even thousands of injuries in a single season, perhaps. And that’s a significant problem. We think that these those injuries can cause long-term damage over years that could result in dementia,” said Dr. Christopher Filley, a neurologist who studies brain injuries for UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
Filley said there’s reason to believe a history of concussions can shorten a person’s life expectancy. While he said most people can recover from one or two concussions just fine, he’d like to determine how many is too many.
“I would say that 10 is pretty serious. As few as possible would be our advice,” Filley said.
What is the NFL doing about CTE?
Earlier this year, the NFL experimented with new padded helmets called Guardian Caps.
During the first two games of pre-season, lineman and tight ends were required to wear the new heavier helmets with additional padding. According to league data, the NFL said Guardian Caps helped reduce the number of concussions during training camp.
But Filley and both retired Broncos players who spoke with FOX31 expressed doubt the new helmets could make a huge difference.
“The technology continues to evolve, but they haven’t really been able to protect the brain very well. They’re good at protecting the skull, but that’s not as important in our view as the brain, because the brain is what makes us human,” Filley said.
“I think that if there’s proof behind it, that it can help, that’s a good thing. But football’s a violent sport and you’re going to hit your head on the ground,” Plummer said.
Putzier expressed a similar sentiment.
“Your brain, you know, it’s grape jelly hitting a skull that’s all rigid over and over. I don’t know if that (Guardian Cap) helps with taking down the impact to help that (brain whiplash) slow down or not,” Putzier said.
When asked if he would donate his brain to science, Putzier replied, “I already have.”
Plummer responded, “Yeah, I’ll probably donate my brain to research it.”
Although in Plummer’s case, it’s because he wants to prove he never developed CTE, while Putzier wants to confirm he probably did.
Today, CTE can only be diagnosed after death through an autopsy.
There is hope that in five years, technology will allow brain scans to detect CTE in living people, which could help athletes decide if they want to keep playing their chosen sport or not.