A recent study of former American football players’ brains does not bode well for professional players’ long-term brain health.Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System at Boston University, examined 202 donated brains from the families of deceased football players. Of those, 177 – 87 percent – showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head.
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Further, while researchers examined brains of former American football players across all levels of play and all positions, 110 of the 111 brains from ex-NFL players – 99 percent – were diagnosed with C.T.E. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Tuesday, is the largest published C.T.E. case series to date.
“There’s no question that there’s a problem in football. That people who play football are at risk for this disease,” McKee told CNN. “And we urgently need to find answers for not just football players, but veterans and other individuals exposed to head trauma.”
C.T.E. can only be diagnosed posthumously. Symptoms usually emerge years later and include memory loss, confusion, difficulty with balance, depression and dementia, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute.
Forty-four of the 110 ex-NFL players’ brains determined to have C.T.E. – 40 percent – were former linemen, who are the players most likely to be knocking heads on the field, the New York Times reports.
McKee, who also serves as the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, warned that the study had selection limitations as most of the donated brains were from concerned family members who witnessed their loved ones showing symptoms of C.T.E. The 177 brains found to have had C.T.E. belonged to players who competed on the field for an average of 15 years.
“Obviously, this doesn’t represent the prevalence in the general population, but the fact that we’ve been able to gather this high a number of cases in such a short period of time says that this disease is not uncommon,” McKee told to the Washington Post.
“In fact, I think it’s much more common than we currently realize. And more importantly, this is a problem in football that we need to address and we need to address now in order to bring some hope and optimism to football players,” she continued.
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety policy, admitted there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders during a round table discussion in Washington in March 2016. Last fall, the league pledged $100 million for concussion-related research.