Every year, parents across the country have to make a hard decision: “do I let my child play football?” It wasn’t such a difficult decision not all that long ago, but the increasing evidence tying repeated concussions to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has made the issue much more complicated.
For Samantha Buono, the choice was even more difficult. She is the daughter of a former NFL player who developed severe CTE and the mother of a son who wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
Buono’s father, Mike Pyle, was a member of the Chicago Bears for nine seasons in the 1960’s. In 1963, he helped bring home an NFL championship.
After he retired, he took his charming personality and booming voice to the radio, broadcasting for WGN radio and providing commentary for Bears games.
“He was the life of the party, always smiling and laughing and always wanting to help a friend out,” said Buono. He loved and he laughed.
“Until he didn’t.”
As he aged, Mike Pyle began to show the tell-tale signs of CTE – irrational anger, confusion, memory problems, and increasing isolation. He would be diagnosed with the most advanced stage of the neurodegenerative disease after his death.
Samantha watched as her father’s mental and physical health deteriorated from a disease likely brought on by his time playing football, and recently she had to consider the prospect of letting her son start the path towards a similar life.
This fall, she decided to let her son, Luca, start playing football for his high school football team.
“I wanted to respect that that was what my son wanted to do,” she said. “He was excited about participating in football and following his dream and his goals and his interests.”