According to a recent study, a staggering majority of NFL players are affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), as a result of concussions experienced on the football field.
The research was conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University, and analyzed the brains of 91 deceased NFL players. 95% of them, a total of 87 individuals, were tested positive for CTE, a degenerative brain disease.
Around 40% of those who showed signs of this condition were offensive of defensive linemen, and these players are particularly prone to head collisions at nearly every play.
The incidence of the disease was significant at any level of the game, not just the big leagues. It didn’t even require violent concussions to take place; minor trauma was sufficient, if it occurred on a regular basis.
“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it”, declared Dr Ann McKee, chief of neurophysiology at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
In fact, the laboratory director insists that CTE is “a very real disease”, which has been identified in an overwhelming number of players. In total, the encephalopathy was present in the brain tissue of 131 out of 165 former football players, who had been either professionals, semi-professionals, or part of a college or high school team.
It is generally believed that CTE occurs due to repeated head trauma experienced while being involved in athletic activities. Its consequences consist in memory loss, confusion, dementia, impaired judgement, aggression, depression and suicidal tendencies.
For example, a traumatic encephalopathy diagnosis was made for 3 ex-NFL players who committed suicide in the last 4 years (Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and Junior Seau).
The recent study does have some limitations however, given the fact that the brains that had been donated belonged to players who had suspected they suffered from this condition. On the other hand, it would be redundant to perform brain scans on living individuals, because CTE can only be identified with certainty posthumously.
Even so, researchers from the nation’s largest brain bank believe that there is a clear link between football trauma and neurologic disorders. In the past, there have been numerous lawsuits by ex-NFL players against the league, because of the health problems they eventually developed following concussions on the field.
In April, a federal judge approved the settlement of a deal with 5,000 former football players, which is bound to cost the NFL $1 billion in the next 65 years.
However, the league maintains that it is committed to make this sport safer, by introducing new rules that protect players, by providing superior medical care and by developing advanced sideline technology. The NFL also invests in independent research meant to gain greater insight into the effects of this game on the well-being of the participants.
So far, the 2015 Health & Safety report of the league does suggest that the number of head injuries diminished by 35% in the last couple of years, from 173 to 112. Another study conducted by FRONTLINE took into account the preseason and postseason also, and reported a 28% drop.
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