“Jake Paul came out and he said that he’s done some testing and he has early signs of CTE,” explained ESPN MMA analyst Chael Sonnen in his April 16, 2021 YouTube video titled, “Jake Paul + CTE.” Sensing a need to bring further analysis and clarity to the situation, Sonnen went on to ask his audience to, “Hold that thought, let’s back up. Where did that come from?"
"Well," said Sonnen. "Jake Paul was attempting to justify his existence and commitment within the sport. Now here me out,” cautioned the former UFC two-division championship contender to the inevitable naysayers in the room. “What Jake Paul was trying to say is that, ‘I’m so into this sport and I do it so much, I have sacrificed as much as anybody else who has ever been in my position.’”
“All of which of course is false,” continued Sonnen, “But this is what he was attempting to say.”
“As a matter of fact,” explained Sonnen as he continued to paraphrase Paul, "'I’ve even got the injuries and wounds to show it.' Now there is no part of me that ever believes that Jake went and did the test. But I would need to pick my words very carefully because how I would I know? I know I fought 51 men and I never did the test. I also know that I don’t know where to go to do the test,” admitted Sonnen in attempting to be as fair as possible to Paul.
“Anthony Smith is not amused with Jake Paul‘s claim of having ‘early signs of CTE,’” writes Nicole Bosco in her April 16, 2021 MMANews.com article titled, “Anthony Smith Calls Jake Paul’s CTE Claim ‘Absolute Disrespect'." According to the report, “Earlier in the week, heading into his boxing match against Ben Askren, Jake Paul announced that he was experiencing early signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Following the claim, Paul received backlash from media, fans, and other members of the combat sports community,” writes Bosco.
“My take,” wrote UFC light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith on his Twitter social media account, “'He’s exactly as stupid and careless as we all thought. Lying about this to be cool or whatever shows his absolute disrespect for the real fighters and their families that have and will suffer from the very real, devastating effects of CTE. He’s disgusting,’ Smith wrote.”
With many in the combat sports community feeling that the 3-0 Paul couldn’t possibly be suffering from CTE symptoms so early in his career, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the subject to examine just how valid these criticisms are and to find out exactly what we do know about this debilitating disease most commonly associated with athletes who have spent a career in combat sports.
According to the CTE Center at the Boston University School of Medicine, “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920’s (when it was initially termed punch drunk syndrome or dementia pugilistica).”
Interestingly, the report goes on to state that, “At this time CTE can only be diagnosed after death by postmortem neuropathological analysis. Right now there is no known way to use MRI, CT, or other brain imaging methods to diagnose CTE. The CTE Center is actively conducting research aimed at learning how to diagnose CTE during life.”
Diving deeper into the subject, according to the December, 2014 Journal of Neurotrauma, “There is growing concern in the neuroscience community regarding the immediate and long-lasting effects from sports-related traumatic brain injury, especially the effects these may have on the risks for developing neurodegenerative diseases. Much of the research focused on sports-related traumatic brain injuries has been centered on concussions, while little attention has been placed on subconcussive impacts.”
Continuing, the Journal of Neurotrauma goes on to state, “However, subconcussive blows, which are below the threshold to cause or elicit any signs of a concussion, should not be overlooked as insignificant. Both animal and human research have shown that subconcussive blows can cause damage to the central nervous system and pathophysiological changes in the brain despite not evoking any apparent acute behavioral changes.”
The CDC defining subconcussive head impacts as, “a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that does not cause symptoms. This differs from concussions, which do cause symptoms. A collision while playing sports is one way a person can get a subconcussive head impact.” Though on the subject whether a single blow is enough to cause CTE, according to the CTE Center at Boston University, “We believe CTE is caused by repetitive brain trauma. This trauma includes both concussions that cause symptoms and subconcussive hits to the head that cause no symptoms. At this time the number or type of hits to the head needed to trigger degenerative changes of the brain is unknown.”
To summarize this information and to put everything into perspective for the viewin audience, the information coming from some of the leading medical professionals in the country today ultimately indicates how little they currently know and understand about CTE themselves, so it’s interesting to see Paul getting so much heat from those within the combat sports community who may know a thing or two about getting punched in the head, but probably don’t understand just how significant singular subconcussive impacts can actually be. The accumulative effects of training in the gym alone easily leading to immediate and serious ramifications for those subject to the trauma.
A career in combat sports can be a tough way to make a living, the consequences are very real and can be sustained, permanent and life altering. The sacrifices these athletes make leading to behavioral changes and even criminal activity in some cases as they desperately try to cope with the lasting effects of a life spent taking punishment in the ring, gridiron or cage. A reality few fair-weather fans understand or appreciate when they are quick to abandon ship once their favorite fighters have run aground in any number of very public and sometimes humiliating ways.
But it doesn’t take a career in professional boxing or mixed martial arts to leave someone permanently debilitated from a fight, in fact just one single blow is enough to cause devastating consequences and even death in some extreme cases. According to a February 23, 2021 The Sun article titled, “’Cowardly Assault’ Brave dad who suffered traumatic brain injury in one punch attack said family was ‘faced with his possible death’,” author Stephen Breen writes, “The court heard how Adam was on a night out with friends at Sinnott’s pub in Dublin city center on February 3, 2019, when he was targeted by Stoneham, of Lucan, west Dublin, in the bar’s smoking area. Our exclusive CCTV footage — which was viewed by Judge Martin Nolan — shows the teenager landing a punch on the back of the dad’s head.”
“While my back was turned,” said Adam, “I was the victim of a serious assault which could have not only killed me but could have left my young children without a father and my fiancé at the time and now wife without a partner. I suffered a lot of upset over the fact that my two young daughters, who were both under two years of age at the time, could have been left without a father due to this cowardly attack.”
“Given the nature of the assault and the seriousness of my injuries,” Adam continued, “The crime has had a significant and lasting effect on my life. My family was faced with my possible death, so they have been affected significantly by the actions of the defendant. The assault was committed in such a cowardly manner and I had no chance to defend myself. I received a severe traumatic brain injury with a cerebral hemorrhage as a result of the assault.”
Given the seriousness of Adam’s injuries from just one punch to the back of the head, a technique which is illegal in both professional boxing and mixed martial arts, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Jake Paul has sustained traumatic brain injuries from training in the boxing gym alone and that's not even taking into account the three professional boxing matches he is already known to have. With Paul training with super middleweight boxer J’Leon Love, it’s probably a safe bet that he has been shown the ropes more than a few times already privately, behind the scenes, away from the prying eyes of the general public.
With Paul having recently walked back his comments on CTE, many in the combat sports community feel vindicated in their criticisms aimed at the young boxer. Though as some analysts have suggested, Paul walking back his CTE claims may have had more to do with the potential repercussions with the athletic commissions and his ability to secure boxing licenses in the future than the fact he truly misspoke about his actual medical condition as it pertains to combat sports. Is Jake Paul suffering from early signs of CTE? While it’s certainly possible, the data suggests the only way to know for sure is after a postmortem neuropathological analysis. A path Paul could be quickly headed down given the fact he is picking fights with men he has no business being in the ring or cage with in promotions which could be described as anything but professional.