The effects of CTE, which cannot be definitively diagnosed until after a person’s death, but which is routinely found in football players when investigators are allowed to conduct post-mortem examinations, can be shocking: episodes of confusion and amnesia, spasms of anger and arguing and severe deterioration in communication and decision-making skills.
“You just really see them turn into someone who’s totally different,” said Heike Crane, the widow of Paul Crane, who played center and linebacker for Alabama and eventually developed CTE before his death in 2020.
But some 60 years ago, long before CTE was a recognized risk, football in a place like Alabama was a signpost to wealth, prestige and envy. Even now, amid their pain, players and their families are often reluctant to wish football away from campuses or American culture. Change the sport, some say, but keep playing it.
Head Injury and CTE in Sports
The permanent damage caused by brain injuries in athletes can have devastating consequences.
For many of the men who played, health threats were a worthy personal sacrifice at the time.
“I came from kind of a small town in Tennessee,” says Steve Sloan, a starting quarterback in Alabama in the 1960s, who later was the athletic director there and the football coach at Duke, Mississippi, Texas Tech, and Vanderbilt.
“I wanted to get a scholarship, and I wanted to get a degree, and if it took a blow to the head, it was okay,” said Sloan, who said he hadn’t experienced the severe symptoms of CTE. just luck.”
The decay of a happy life
Like Sloan, Ray Perkins came to Tuscaloosa seeking a life outside the rural town where he grew up. Bryant, who won six national championships before his death in 1983 and whose name is now in the 100,077-seat campus stadium, was the draw.