Football is a hard-hitting sport where frequent significant collisions can result in serious injury. New research found that 110 out of 111 former NFL players, based on samples from a Boston brain bank studying CTE, had evidence of brain disease. Although these samples were contributed mostly by family members wishing for the study into CTE, prompted by troubling symptoms before their relative’s death, the results prompt further investigation into the game’s injury risk.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a brain disease associated with frequent blows to the head, causing deterioration of brain matter and an excess buildup of tau, a protein. Recent studies are striving to answer questions related to the prevalence of CTE, both among the general public and football player population.
Specifically, scientists want to uncover the genetic risk of contracting CTE, in addition to how lifestyle factors like drugs, steroids and diet can contribute, as well as how many years a football player can play before they approach dangerous territory.
The American Medical Association’s Report
The study, from the American Medical Association, found signs of CTE in 177 former players, 90 percent of the brains studied. 110 of 111 brains were from former NFL players, as well as 48 of 53 college players, nine of 14 semi-professional players, seven of eight Canadian Football league players and three of 14 high school players.
Professional players were found in the study to have the most severely affected brains. Notable NFL players involved in the study included previously reported cases such as Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Bubba Smith and Ken Stabler, in addition to new cases such as 10-year NFL veteran Frank Wainright.
Neuropathologists completed their diagnosis through an examination of brain tissue, basing their study from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who has been working with the NFL among others to research CTE and its prevalence in the league. Last year, the NFL acknowledged the link between brain blows and CTE, while agreeing to a $1 billion settlement to compensate former players, as well as continuing research into CTE.
The Future of American Football
Studies like the one from the American Medical Association, as well as high-profile CTE cases like Junior Seau, are prompting a public discussion regarding whether the cons are starting to outweigh the pros regarding the national football league. Ratings for the NFL were down throughout 2016, with a similarly grim forecast for the 2017 season. Especially with interest dwindling and CTE-related injuries becoming more prevalent than ever, players and fans alike are pondering the league’s future.
The NFL has implemented 40 rule changes in the past decade to improve player safety, including the introduction of medical timeouts in 2015. Recent initiatives to study CTE and compensate impacted players show a league very aware of issues impacting both players and the viewer base. Despite some struggles, the NFL still reported $13 billion in revenue in 2016. The revenue is still strong, so the league will likely be hesitant to implement any overhaul.
Regardless, the debate will endure regarding whether the NFL, in its current form, is worth playing for. In the NBA and MLB, both considered safer sports, players get paid more on average than NFL players. As a result, it won’t be surprising to see talented athletes focus their efforts on other sports, with higher payouts and less injury risk. Traumatic brain injuries can cause death, so opting for more strain on the legs and core instead with a sport like basketball can seem more appealing.
Kate Harveston is a political writer and activist. She enjoys writing about issues related to social justice and policy reform, but she also writes about a variety of other cultural topics. If you like her work, you can follow her on Twitter for updates or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.