If someone told you football players were at higher risk for some sort of concussion or other head injury, you would not be surprised. After all, it just takes one good hit in this sport and you could be seeing stars. In a more recent study performed by the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University, researchers have now realized it goes beyond the risk of concussions. In fact, a total of 87 out of 91 deceased football players tested positive for the deadly brain disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This brings with it alarming implications for the sport and raises some questions even for those who have formally fought against these concerns.
Aside from being a real mouthful, this brain disease is quite rare among the general population. Discovered in 2002 in the brain of former football legend Mike Webster, the disease works in four different stages.
1. CTE begins taking hold by causing the tau protein to form around the blood vessels in the frontal lobe. This interrupts normal functioning and begins to eventually kill the nerve cells.
2. The tau protein begins to take hold on more areas of the brain, causing symptoms like rage, impulsivity, and depression to manifest.
3. Tau protein starts to expand to other areas of the brain, like the temporal lobe, which affects memory and can lead to confusion.
4. In the end, nerve cells continue to die and lead to advanced dementia, leaving the brain deformed, brittle and only about half its original size.
Though CTE might be considered a rare disease, the new research performance at the Boston University lab shows a much different picture among football players. In fact, 96% of NFL players tested positive while 79% of all football players also tested positive. Overall, this is an alarming figure to be sure. Out of those tested, it seems that those who receive continuous trauma are more likely, as 40% of those who tested positive were linemen (the players who constantly butt heads). The head of the study, Dr. Ann McKee, points out that this is a very serious condition, and though brain scans have shown signs among living players as well, it is so far impossible to positively identify prior to death. As a result, some football officials are skirting around the issue.
Of course, in spite of the new evidence, no one in the NFL seems to really care about the long-term health of its players. Though they claim to take an interest in protecting the players, their focus seems to be limited only to concussions and short-term effects, which is reflected in their minor rule adjustments. Unfortunately, they still seem dismissive of CTE and other serious brain diseases, particularly as a direct result of their own incredibly successful sport.
How do you think the NFL should help players deal with this trauma? Is there a way people can get better protection without compromising the fun of the game? Let us know what you think in the comment below.