“Gronk is a powerful spokesman for caring about these issues,” Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. — a former WWE wrestler who’s the co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and co-founder of the Boston University CTE Center — told The Guardian in 2019. “But there’s confusion in the public about concussions and CTE, and we need to clear that up. You can treat the symptoms that can linger after a concussion, and that’s still a positive message, but CTE can’t be fixed.”
What is CTE?
According to a CTE Center FAQ, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — or CTE, for short — is “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.”
Originally known as punch drunk syndrome or dementia pugilistica for its effect on boxers, CTE can result in degeneration months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma, and the disease is “associated with common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia,” the center explains. There is no cure for the disease yet, but the symptoms of CTE can be individually treated.
Does Gronk have CTE?
Gronk claimed on Twitter in September 2019 that he had CTE and “fixed” his case. A few weeks earlier, he opened up about his CTE concerns in an interview with NBC News NOW, saying CTE is why he “got away from the game” when he retired from the New England Patriots in 2019.
“I would not lie, I was walking around and my mood swings were totally up and down,” he added. “I was aware of what was going on with my body and my mind. That’s why I had to walk away.”
He went on: “No lie, I’ve felt my head. I used to have liquid, [my head] used to be thick. My head used to be thicker, like a centimeter of liquid in some spots, and I’d feel it and be like, ‘What the heck?’ You could put indents in my head.”
At the time, Gronk said he was getting treatments and looking for brain exercises. “It keeps your brain active,” he said. “I truly believe I’m just starting where I’m at. If I already got to here, and I was at damage, what if I keep doing it? I could keep going higher and higher and higher. It’s getting addictive in the best way it possibly can, and that’s why I truly believe what I went through, I went through all for a reason. That’s to make myself stronger in the end.”
Gronk, however, begged to differ, writing, “It is fixable. I fixed mine. There are plenty of methods in this world that allow the brain to recover from severe damage. That is also why I would allow my kid to play football.”
To that, the doctor responded, “I am glad you are feeling great today, but neurodegenerative diseases (CTE, Alzheimer’s, etc.) cannot be ‘fixed’ or cured today. They eventually win. Please come on over to the BU brain bank next week and we can discuss the nuances.”