FOXBOROUGH, Ma. (CBS NEWS) – Retired NFL star Rob Gronkowski claimed in a tweet that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions, is “fixable” and he “fixed” his own damage. The former New England Patriots tight end said in an interview with CBSN that aired Thursday that he “probably” had nearly two dozen concussions throughout his career and that his injuries were “fixed.”
Chris Nowinski, former WWE wrestler and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Institute, a medical clinic that studies brain injuries in athletes, tweeted at the ex-NFL star Friday after his CBSN interview. Nowinski wrote, “Right now #CTE cannot be fixed.”
Gronkowski disagreed. “It’s fixable. I fixed mine,” he responded. “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.”
However, Nowinski called him out on his claims. “You are right about brain plasticity and I am glad you are feeling great today, but neurodegenerative diseases (CTE, Alzheimer’s, etc.) cannot be ‘fixed’ or cured today. They eventually win.”
Gronkowski later backed down from his initial statement. “I agree and I am not saying I cured it. I am saying that I put in the time, the effort and willingness to find unconventional methods to improve my conditions. Sometimes the answers are not found in studies like this case.”
CTE is a brain disease that is diagnosed after death in athletes who experienced repeated concussions and head blows during their athletic careers. It shares some characteristics with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Sam Gandy, the Mount Sinai Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research, told CBS News that there’s “no proven intervention that is effective in treating CTE.”
“Some natural products have been proposed for Alzheimer’s and CTE but none are proven to have any meaningful or measurable benefit,” Gandy said. “There are also no accepted criteria for diagnosing CTE during life.”
Gandy also said it is more likely to potentially recover from brain injuries like trauma and stroke. He said physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle “might help” but recovery is “usually the result of a modest injury in someone with good recovery genes.”
Earlier this week, Gronkowski, who is now part of a CBD business venture, was asked by CBSN’s Reena Ninan whether he would let his son play football. He said he would, but only after telling him about his personal injury history.
“I would let my son play football, but I would educate him on the game and educate him on what I went through and I truly believe that any injury that you receive is fixable,” Gronkowski said. “I went through and had nine surgeries. I probably had like 20 concussions in my life. I remember five blackout ones.”
Gronkowski retired from the NFL earlier this year and sounds like he’s leaving the door closed on a return for now. “I have to feel it to come back, too. I am in a good place right now,” he said.