Dale Earnheardt Jr. Admits to Enduring 20-Plus Concussions
NASCAR fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. is worried he could face CTE in the future.
Stock car racing driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted in an interview that he has received more than 20 concussions throughout his 19-year career. Earnhardt's numerous concussions put him at risk for a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known to many simply as CTE. This condition is believed to be caused by repeated head trauma, and can cause reduced impulse control, unstable mood, and memory loss.
"It may be 20 to 25, I would say," said Earnhardt of his concussion count in an interview. Earnhardt also revealed that he hid most of them, fearing they could impact his career.
"The majority of those I wouldn't have told anybody about," he continued. "Any time you have a head injury...Your brain is your computer, you know, and people don't have the faith in it healing like a broken bone."
"There's instances [sic] in the past where guys have had head injuries, visually you can see that it's affected them permanently. If you go to somebody and say, 'man, you know, I rung my bell, and I'm real messed-up, I'm gonna take a break, and I'm gonna come back a hundred percent,' you know that person's always gonna have that in the back of their mind, and when you don't run a good race, are they gonna go, 'hmm, I wonder if he's just not the same any more.'"
The condition known as CTE is a controversial topic in sports circles, especially surrounding the NFL, as a study published in 2017 in the medical journal Jama found that the rate of CTE in former NFL players was as high as 99 percent.
Worries about the future of Earnhardt's mental health are justified by his long self-admitted history of concussions, and he anticipates challenges down the road, having already felt lingering effects of his injuries earlier this year.
"I'm real concerned about what this means for me as I get older," explained Earnhardt. "Am I going to have issues with my memory, my personality? Are those things gonna be affected—are they already affected, and I'm just not aware of it?"
Like several other professional racing drivers, Earnhardt intends to donate his brain to researchers to aid understanding of CTE. Even if he can't convince his fellow drivers to stop putting their mental health at risk after receiving concussions, what medical professionals might learn from his brain could have a profound effect on the future of CTE treatment.