The NFL has been hit with significant scientific evidence confirming an NFL player’s chance of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE — a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head.
According to a study published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 202 brains from deceased football players were donated for research. Of the 202 players, 111 of them played in the NFL — and 110 of them were found to have markings of CTE.
In other words, all but one brain showed signs of having a disease that can cause a multitude of symptoms in its sufferers, including memory loss, confusion, anxiety, depression, impulsivity, dementia and sometimes suicide. Problems can arise years after trauma to the head has stopped and is typically found in contact sports such as American Football.
“There’s no question that there’s a problem in football. That people who play football are at risk for this disease,” Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center and co-author of the new study, told CNN. “And we urgently need to find answers for not just football players, but veterans and other individuals exposed to head trauma.”
Scientifically, the disease is marked by an abnormal tau protein in the brain that can disable neuropathways. However, it can only be confirmed during an autopsy — something that takes place after a person has already died — causing an even bigger voice of concern.
The study included brains of individuals who have been publicly confirmed to have had the disease, including Ken Stabler, Kevin Turner, Bubba Smith and Dave Duerson. Former ex-Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, whose life ended after he was found hanging in his prison cell back in April, will have his brain donated for research as well.
According to the findings, NFL linemen made up the largest group players by far — totaling 44 — who tested positive for CTE, partly due to half of the 22 players on the field being defensive and offensive linemen, but also because linemen knock heads on most plays.
However, the disease findings didn’t end there. There were confirmed cases of young players suffering from the degenerative illness as well.
A combination of 14 high school players and 48 out of the 53 college players were diagnosed as having CTE in the study, bringing the total to 177 confirmed cases out of the 202 brains researched. Data compiled by researchers at Stanford even showed that one college offensive lineman sustained 62 hits to the head in a single game, which is equivalent to driving a car into a brick wall at 30 mph.
The NFL has officially acknowledged a link between football and CTE, with the league urging children to stay away from playing the sport in its regularly aggressive form, and encouraging safe tackling techniques as well as the promotion of flag football.
“The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes,” the NFL told CNN.
They further commented that “there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE.”