NFL Match between Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans, January 20, 2019 (GETTY IMAGES / AFP / Archive / Jonathan Bachman)

When New England and the Los Angeles Rams meet on Sunday for the Super Bowl, Matt Morrall can not help but think about the last years of his father's life, who died like many former professional football players in a game. cerebral degeneration linked to the violence of the sport-king in the United States.In his office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Matt Morrall has placed prominently a large sculpture of a football player.

This is one of two MVP trophies (best player) that his father received during his long and distinguished career in the National Football League (NFL) between 1956 and 1976.

Earl Morrall, double winner of the Super Bowl, entered the legend for having succeeded with the Miami Dolphins in 1972-73 the only perfect season in history (17 wins, 0 defeat), died in 2014 at the age of 79 years, "after the last five-six difficult years," recalls his son.

"My dad played 21 seasons in the NFL, and during that time, he got a lot of head shots, because at the time, the quarterbacks were not as well protected as now," said Matt Morrall, a lawyer with 61 years old.

"When he died, a stage 4 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (the most serious, Ed) was diagnosed, he suffered the first signs of dementia, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's," he explains.

– Paralysis voice –

"The hardest thing was to see him decline, he had a voice we could hear on the TV during the matches despite the shouting of the crowd." At the end of his life, he was suffering from vocal paralysis. because of Parkinson's disease, he was much less present and had difficulty expressing himself, "recalls his son.


Rules and characteristics of American football (AFP / Vincent LEFAI)

"He weighed only 66 kilos, he could not eat or swallow, in fact, he was no longer autonomous at 79, it is not so old in our time," he regrets.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a spectrum that haunts American football and the NFL since the early 2000s.

Several scientific studies have demonstrated a link between this brain degeneration and repeated shocks to the head, concussions and other traumatic brain injuries that too often enamel a career of a player.

The most recent of his studies, in July 2017, notably analyzed the brain tissue of 111 players who passed the NFL and who died often prematurely: the ETC was detected in 110 of them!

A prevalence that forced the powerful and successful NFL, sued in the early 2010s by 4,500 former players or their rightholders, to act.

– "Great lessons of life" –

In addition to the $ 1 billion it promised to pay for victims' compensation and research, the NFL has been able to adjust its regulations season after season, including proscribing helmet-to-helmet shocks since 2018.

"It is not only the repetitive nature of the shocks that explains this pathology, but there is also the type of impact, the intensity, the position of the head at the moment of shock," explains Professor Sergio Gonzales-Arias , neurologist at Florida International University.

A few days before its grand finale, followed by more than 100 million viewers in the United States, the NFL announced that the number of concussions had dropped 29% year-on-year (135 vs. 190 in 2017-18), thanks to the new rules put in place this season.

"We are pleased with the downward trend, but there is still a lot of work to be done," admitted Jeff Miller, his vice president, in charge of health and safety issues.

Matt Morrall is convinced of this.

"I do not believe that children have to play football (American) while fighting, as long as they are not in high school," he says.

He still follows this sport closely, despite everything.

"American football can have a place in everyone's life, it's a sport that teaches great lessons in life that you can use all your life, but I would like to see children protected and the rules evolve to protect everyone, "concludes Matt Morrall.