Commentary: For Larkin and other players, risking CTE isn’t worth it without play time

By Brian Hattab, Staff Writer
On April 15, 2018

Brooks Larkin’s retirement may go down as one of the more dramatic stories in USF athletics’ history.

The now-former USF offensive lineman announced his departure from both football and the Bulls specifically on Twitter on April 6, citing seemingly different reasons for each.

In his departure tweet, Larkin called USF offensive line coach, Matt Mattox, a “liar and a coward,” stating that Mattox “plays who he wants rather than the best player for the job.”

Larkin then called out USF football’s culture under Charlie Strong in a phone interview with The Oracle.

Larkin, however, didn’t necessarily have to quit football then and there. But it’s hard to argue with one of the reasons he mentioned in a tweet — Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE.

Larkin’s reason might not be something most football fans like to hear, but also something most football fans should not be surprised by anymore. In Larkin’s own words, “increasing my risk of CTE is not worth it for me anymore.”

CTE is a degenerative brain disease commonly associated with repeated blows to the head. In a study released in 2017, 177 of 202 deceased football players whose brains were studied were found to have CTE.

Larkin’s concerns over CTE are certainly justified. Some of the more extreme cases include suicides by NFL greats such as Junior Seau and Dave Duerson.

But perhaps the most extreme case of a CTE-related suicide involves someone who was only slightly older than Larkin, 22, is today.

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez hanged himself in prison last year. After Hernandez’s suicide, researchers at Boston University found that he had stage three out of a possible four stages of CTE.

Hernandez, 27, had been in prison for the last five years of his life. He last played football for New England at age 23, one year older than Larkin is right now.

But even without the risk of homicidal behavior, the symptoms that come with CTE aren’t exactly fun.

Depression. Short-term memory loss. Cognitive impairment. Aggression. 

Dementia-like symptoms are also commonly associated with CTE.

And for Brooks Larkin, what’s the point of putting yourself at a higher risk for any of that — especially if your game-time playing time after three full seasons is limited to seven career games in relief?

According to Larkin, Mattox promised a split of first-team reps with redshirt sophomore Michael Wiggs in competition for the starting center job. 

But that never happened according to Larkin and when Larkin tried to discuss the issue with Mattox, Mattox never showed up.

“I actually heard Mattox’s voice in the hallway near his office,” Larkin told The Oracle. “He still never came in. I knew he was ignoring me. It just reassured me about everything I was doing.” 

Maybe calling out coaches and teammates on Twitter isn’t the most professional-looking thing a player can do. 

But if you’re banging your head repeatedly, day after day, and very likely crippling yourself at some point in the future, the least coaches could do is tell you your actual shot of making it semi-worth it.

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