Chronic repetitive strain or motion injuries are common in sports, musicians, typists and others whose activities require overusing and repeatedly injuring a body part. So it should not be a surprise that football players who keep injuring a body part eventually develop a permanent problem. It is just that they and the National Football League kept ignoring the symptoms. Now, study after study (including a new one on deceased football players) present more evidence tying the sport and brain damage.
According to the data, a whopping 96 percent of NFL players that have been examined and 79 percent of people who played football at some period in their lives show signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. The condition is believed to stem from repeated injuries to the brain from tackles and tumbles on the field. It can lead to memory loss, depression as well as dementia.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University conducted the latest research. They looked for evidence of CTE in 165 deceased individuals who played football while they were alive whether in high school, college, or a professional league. They found CTE in brain tissue from 131 of the 165 individuals who had previously played football. For former NFL players, 87 out of 91 tested positive for the brain disease.
The research also showed that 40 percent of those who tested positive for CTE brain damage signs were either offensive or defensive lineman. Players in those positions often make physical contact on every play they are in. Those are not typically violent collisions, so the evidence is also mounting that it is repetitive contact causing injuries that are not obvious at first, much like other repetitive motion injuries.
According to PBS’s Frontline, the researchers also determined that CTE disease or brain damage can only be definitively diagnosed posthumously. There is some skepticism that the former players who donated their brains for testing suspected that they had a degenerative brain disease while still alive, so the population of deceased football players may be skewed and not representative. Even so, however, the study evidence tying football and brain damage continues to mount.
Dr. Ann McKee, director and chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, noted, “People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it.” She pointed out that the lab data shows it is ”a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.”
The NFL acknowledged the results and even posted them on their Web site. They maintain, “We are dedicated to making football safer and continue to take steps to protect players, including rule changes, advanced sideline technology, and expanded medical resources.”
The league even contributed $1 million in funds for the research. However, that contribution is paltry compared to the payouts to former players over the issue. In April, they arrived at a potential $1 billion settlement over past head injuries with approximately 5,000 former players. In the not-too-distant past, the league disbanded its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee looking at the issue and claimed the “no NFL player” suffered chronic brain damage from repetitive blows to their brain on the field. But it is hard for them to ignore the impacts as more evidence tying brain damage to football, such as the study on deceased former players, emerges.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Frontline: New: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease
Frontline: NFL Board Paid $2M to Players While League Denied Football-Concussion Link
NFL: Researchers find evidence of brain disease in deceased players
TIME: New Data Shows 96% of NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease