If a Hollywood film isn't enough to convince the general public that concussions are a serious threat to the future of football, perhaps further scientific evidence will get the point across.
A whopping 87 of the 91 brains of former NFL players tested by researchers with the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to a recent study. In other words, 95.6 percent of former NFL players tested were suffering from a disease that has been linked to dementia, depression and even the suicides of several Hall of Fame players.
In all, the research teams tested the brains of 165 former football players ranging from high school to the NFL, and 131 of them returned evidence of CTE — an astoundingly high percentage of 79.4, per PBS.
As a caveat, "Frontline" notes that many of the brains studied were donated by people who believed to be suffering from CTE when they were alive, which therefore might skew the numbers higher than normal. Because testing for the disease among the living has proven less effective, there's some question as to what the real percentage of CTE cases among football players might be. Regardless, let's agree it's high.
“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it,” said Dr. Ann McKee, who runs the lab as part of a collaboration between the VA and BU. “My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.”
As for the NFL's efforts to address the matter, a spokesman cited the league's donations to Boston University and told PBS, "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."
Indeed, the NFL and "Frontline" estimate concussions dropped between 28 and 35 percent since 2013, a timespan that also includes an uncapped settlement with retired players that started at $765 million.
This latest study comes on the heels of a trailer for the forthcoming movie "Concussion," starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born neuropathologist who discovered CTE in September 2002. If the NFL thought its settlement would end this discussion, it's quickly realizing it was only the beginning.
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