Findings released Tuesday show that 177 of 202 dead football players had a brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head, including 110 of 111 former NFL players.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease associated with recurring brain trauma, making it more common in contact sports like football.
The CTE study from the Journal of the American Medical Association observed the disease in three of the 14 high school players, 48 of 53 college athletes, nine of 14 semiprofessional players, as well as seven of eight in Canadian football.
“Obviously, this doesn’t represent the prevalence in the general population, but the fact that we’ve been able to gather this high a number of cases in such a short period of time says that this disease is not uncommon,” said neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee told The Washington Post. “In fact, I think it’s much more common than we currently realize. And more importantly, this is a problem in football that we need to address and we need to address now in order to bring some hope and optimism to football players.”
In a statement released by the NFL, a representative said, “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.”
Despite the findings, McKee said there are still many unanswered questions. Even though the disease is caused by repeated blows to the head, football players have had long careers without having CTE. According to Dr. McKee, lifestyle habits such as alcohol, drugs, steroids and diet may contribute to CTE.
Since the study used donated brains from concerned families, it can’t be attributed to every athlete that plays football. The study can’t accurately determine how likely a football player is to contract the disease.
CTE can really only be examined on brains after death, but Dr. McKee says the results from the study may give doctors more information to operate on the living “while there’s still a chance to do something.”
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