As the sport at all levels continues to aggressively address the issue of safety for its players, another report has surfaced that shines a harsh light on the potential brutality of the game.
In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Tuesday, the Associated Press reports, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System examined the brains of 202 deceased men who had played football at various levels. Of those, 53 played college football; 48 of them were diagnosed postmortem with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE as it’s more commonly known.
Even more startling, 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players studied had CTE. Conversely, three of 14 brains of individuals whose highest level of football was high school were diagnosed with it.
From the AP:
There are many questions that remain unanswered,” said lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. “How common is this” in the general population and all football players?
“How many years of football is too many?” and “What is the genetic risk? Some players do not have evidence of this disease despite long playing years,” she noted.
It’s also uncertain if some players’ lifestyle habits — alcohol, drugs, steroids, diet — might somehow contribute, McKee said.
Dr. Munro Cullum, a neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, emphasized that the report is based on a selective sample of men who were not necessarily representative of all football players. He said problems other than CTE might explain some of their most common symptoms before death — depression, impulsivity and behavior changes. He was not involved in the report.
CTE is a degenerative disease found in people who have suffered repeated blows to the head, particularly in sports such as boxing hockey, rugby and, of course, football. At this time, CTE can only be diagnosed after death, although there are experimental tests being studied that may work on the living.
In that vein, the AP writes that “McKee said research from the brain bank may lead to answers and an understanding of how to detect the disease in life, “while there’s still a chance to do something about it.”
Among those who donated their brains and were part of the new study included Ken Stabler (Alabama), Bubba Smith (Michigan State), Junior Seau (USC), Dave Duerson (Notre Dame) and Frank Wainright (Northern Colorado). All of those went on to lengthy careers in the NFL.