A recent study examining former NFL players and brain injury found a whopping 96% had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) believed to have been caused by their time playing in the league. Examining the raw data, 87 of the 91 former players who donated their brains to science after death developed CTE —- only 4 players didn’t show sings of CTE.
The near consensus number of players who tested for CTE in the sample used for the study is startling, and perhaps the most alarming news for football-related brain injuries to date. There are countless questions based on these findings, including the following:
- Is the game of football simply too dangerous for people to play? While it’s unlikely the game of football will just “end,” should future participants of the sport have full disclosure that studies like the one mentioned here have shown that by playing, you almost certainly will develop CTE.
- Can equipment improvements and rule changes to protect against head injuries reduce (eliminate?) football-related brain injuries? Rule committees and equipment developers continually address safety issues, but can enough ever be done to make the game significantly safer as it relates to brain injuries?
- Are only elite-level players at-risk, or are younger players (including kids) at the same — or even greater — risk for CTE? Neuroscientists will almost certainly continue to examine variables like age, cumulative time playing, and types of hits experienced while playing football.
The NFL hasn’t had a lot of good press in recent years with player off-field issues like domestic abuse and arrests, but the latest CTE study may be their worst hit yet. The findings from this study are saying that it’s nearly inevitable football players will leave the game with brain impairment — and in recent years players have turned to drugs/alcohol and various reckless behaviors (including suicide) to cope with the depression that usually accompanies CTE.
When you consider that the size, speed, and strength of football players today compared to years past, it begs the question whether future rule changes and equipment improvements can ever mitigate serious brain injuries experienced from playing football?
As increasingly more studies continue to reveal dangerous correlations between the severity and frequency of CTE and football players, important decisions will need to be made by professional, college, high school, and pee wee football leagues. Additionally, parents and coaches will also be challenged when it comes to how to play football, when to take a break, and what treatments to pursue if there is a head injury. As we have recently learned, some former NFL players have gone on record saying they would not allow their own kids to play football today — will more families follow this thinking in the years ahead?
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brain, CTE, damage, football, injury, NFL, psychology, safety, sociology, sports, youth