Human heads were never supposed to be used as plastic-covered battering rams. Common sense tells us that and the evidence continues to bear it out. The most recent, and among the most alarming data, comes from a new study that found evidence of the pernicious brain injury CTE in the brains of 87 out of 91 deceased NFL players. That’s a startling 96% of former players with an increased likelihood of depression, memory loss and addiction, among the many other awful things CTE causes.
CTE is thought to stem from repeated head trauma, but that doesn't only mean concussions. The small, sub-concussive hits that players, especially lineman, take on every play can have an even more serious impact.
The lab at Boston University responsible for this study has studied the brains of 165 deceased football players in total, 91 of whom played in the NFL. The rest played in college, high school, or professionally outside of the game's top ranks. Notably, the occurrence of CTE in non-NFL players is less frequent — 44 out of 74 — than in NFL players. That implies that the specific rigors of the NFL, along with the increased number of years professionals spend playing the game, is worse for the human brain.
There’s one caveat to note in all this. As PBS Frontline, which published the study, says, "many of the players who have donated their brains for testing suspected that they had the disease while still alive, leaving researchers with a skewed population to work with.” That is, the studied brains came from a self selected group of men worried about CTE. The occurrence among all NFL players is likely less than 96 percent.
While the NFL certainly hates to see headlines like this one splashed around the internet, the truth is that no one is surprised by these statistics. By now, the point has been proven. Football leads to CTE, which leads to an awful, shortened life.
The question now is what next? Reducing concussions, as the NFL says it had done, is a good start. But as mentioned, concussions are not the only problem. At the very least, and really, this is the very least, the NFL has a responsibility to publicize these statistics. If the league cannot stop traumatic brain injuries from happening on the field, players should at least know what they’re in for.
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