A significant study of the brains of 111 NFL players revealed that 110 of the 111 were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head, reported the New York Times in July. The study by researchers from Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System, led by neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee, is the largest to date. The study examined the brains of 202 deceased football players, who died at ages 23 to 89, of whom 111 had played in the NFL.
McKee cautioned that the sampling was not random, be cause many families donated brains because they had seen symptoms of CTE in the former player, and that skewed the results. However, explained the New York Times, “About 1,300 former players have died since the B.U. group began examining brains. So even if every one of the other 1,200 players had tested negative [unlikely] . . . the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to nine percent, vastly higher than in the general population.”
Research at Stanford University showed that one college player sustained 62 blows to the head in one game, each “equivalent to what you would see if he had driven his car into a brick wall at 30 m.p.h.’” according to the New York Times.
Memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia are among the symptoms of CTE, and it can takes years, even decades, after the initial trauma for the symptoms to appear. CTE can be diagnosed only after death. Commented the Washington Post, “The link between the degenerative brain disease and football already had been well established, but the findings are nonetheless startling, indicating that CTE is much more common than had been thought.”
Although the NFL issued a statement expressing appreciation for Dr. McKee’s work, the league has been notoriously slow to acknowledge the link between CTE and head injuries incurred in playing football. In 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million, committing $40 million to medical research and $60 million to developing technology to protect players, such as improved helmets.
NFL players have filed lawsuits against the NFL in the past few years, seeking compensation for brain injuries that have left them unfocused, confused, and therefore unable to hold down jobs. In 2013, the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families, who had accused the league of concealing what it knew about the dangers of repeated hits to the head.
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