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Dr. Ann McKee: We have no idea what percentage of NFL players develop CTE

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Researchers in Boston studying the brains of deceased NFL players have found chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in more than 90 percent of them. That has led some to assume that more than 90 percent of NFL players develop CTE — a conclusion not supported by the science.

Because researchers have studied the brains only of players who asked to have their brains studied — or whose families asked for their brains to be studied — the sample is biased. A randomly selected sample of NFL players’ brains would need to be compared to a randomly selected sample of non-NFL players’ brains for researchers to reach any kind of conclusion about the prevalence of CTE among NFL players compared to the prevalence of CTE among the population as a whole. So far, that kind of study has not been conducted.

Dr. Ann McKee, the chief of neuropathology at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System and a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University’s medical school, was the researcher who gave a presentation before Congress that preceded NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller’s declaration that there is “certainly” a link between football and CTE. But McKee acknowledges that she doesn’t know — no one knows — what percentage of players develop CTE.

“We can’t say from this sample whether the rate of CTE in pro players is 1 percent or what; we have no idea,” McKee told the New York Times.

McKee said that she doesn’t think CTE is rare among NFL players because it would be unlikely that she would see it in such a large percentage of the brains she studies if it were unusual in NFL players overall. But she doesn’t know for sure.

“I don’t think it’s extremely rare. I would have to have some golden touch to see this many, if it were,” McKee said.

Robert Stern, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine, who works with McKee, added that “This research is in its infancy.”

Much more research needs to be done.

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49 Responses to “Dr. Ann McKee: We have no idea what percentage of NFL players develop CTE”
  1. thesmartest1 says: Mar 28, 2016 8:04 AM

    They don’t even know why migraines occur. There is no definite test for concussions either. Truth is no one knows a lot about any of this stuff.

  2. kissmysandwich says: Mar 28, 2016 8:38 AM

    It’s idiotic to say maybe it’s 1% after 90% of the people you studied have it. Science lacks common sense. That’s one of the major problems in today’s science community. It would be correct to say, there certainly seems to be a link, but it’s not yet fully understood or proven in our current studies. To say there is no correlation is completely absurd….Jerrah!

  3. mzigg35 says: Mar 28, 2016 8:39 AM

    Now why do we need scientists to tell us that repeatedly slamming your head up against a brick wall will damage the brain? Sounds more like common sense

  4. jjb0811 says: Mar 28, 2016 8:39 AM

    Funny how these articles are published a few weeks are the FA free for all. Didn’t see too many FA retiring due to risk, but gladly signed massive new deals. Own responsibility.

  5. igornathanhiggers says: Mar 28, 2016 8:40 AM

    Who cares about what Dr. McKee has to say?…

    The liberal scientists here have already concluded the link between CTE and Football players exists…

    And if you’ve ever debated a liberal on the internet, you’d know they always have a library of internet links to prove they’re right!…

  6. romo2witten says: Mar 28, 2016 8:45 AM

    So it sounds like Jerry Jones wasn’t so far off after all. Interesting how he was skewered by the national media for essentially saying the same thing.

  7. ipdaily69 says: Mar 28, 2016 8:47 AM

    Hmmm…..sounds like Roger and his henchmen had a busy weekend twisting arms and applying pressure…aka……silencing knowledgable skeptics.
    Streets and Smith used to hold Legends in Boxing awards dinners at the Downtown Athletic Club in NYC…..and dozens of boxing legends would attend and these poor men were walking brain dead. It was the saddest sight I’ve ever seen.
    Wake up NFL and stop hiding behind wordsmithing attorneys. Don’t be on the wrong side of history.

  8. cajunaise says: Mar 28, 2016 8:49 AM

    I’m curious about the percentages per position.

  9. abninf says: Mar 28, 2016 8:55 AM

    More research will never determine if they developed it in pee wee, junior high, high school, college or pro football, or even if it was caused by football.

  10. snowdood163 says: Mar 28, 2016 8:58 AM

    Do we really need to keep rehashing this? I’m pretty sure everyone nowadays knows football is bad for your health, as is any other activity where you repeatedly bash your body (including your head) into something solid.

  11. chicagobtech says: Mar 28, 2016 9:09 AM

    thesmartest1 says:
    Mar 28, 2016 8:04 AM

    They don’t even know why migraines occur. There is no definite test for concussions either. Truth is no one knows a lot about any of this stuff.
    __________________________________

    Indeed. One of my favorite quotes on the matter comes from Lyall Watson:

    “If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.”

  12. Susan says: Mar 28, 2016 9:22 AM

    It can happen in Pee Wee High School college or NFL
    Prove when ?

  13. 12brichandfamous says: Mar 28, 2016 9:23 AM

    Correlation causation.

    Criticizing her remarks as absurd is plain wrong. Her point is that there is no data to scientifically infer anything at this time. We must wait for research to confirm with specialized studies. Meanwhile it to s prudent to make the game safer by reducing potential for brain trauma.

  14. kcchefs58 says: Mar 28, 2016 9:31 AM

    kissmysandwich says:
    Mar 28, 2016 8:38 AM
    It’s idiotic to say maybe it’s 1% after 90% of the people you studied have it. Science lacks common sense.
    ———————-
    Science relies on repeatable results. Common sense varies by person, region, culture, etc. I’d venture to say there is almost nothing everyone would agree on, thus common sense does not exist.

  15. huh6016 says: Mar 28, 2016 9:35 AM

    I bet she never played football, so what does SHE know……

  16. 6thsense10 says: Mar 28, 2016 9:38 AM

    mzigg35 says:
    Mar 28, 2016 8:39 AM
    Now why do we need scientists to tell us that repeatedly slamming your head up against a brick wall will damage the brain? Sounds more like common sense
    —–
    We don’t need scientists to tell us that repeatedly slamming your head up against a wall will cause brain damage…..however we need scientists to quantify it for us and that’s the question they’re trying to answer. Can you tell us how many hits to the head a player can take before symptoms of CTE start to appear? How many concussions before a person’s brain is damaged to the point that they can’t function in a normal job after football? Are there some athletes that are more genetically more at risk to developing to CTE than others? How come some athletes can play the same style and position as another and come out relatively healthy and others don’t? Is it genes, better protection, better football tackling techniques?

    Those questions and more are what scientists are trying to answer. Please think things out a little before you try to belittle scientists and their studies.

  17. grimlock12 says: Mar 28, 2016 9:39 AM

    So I’m an electrician, should I sue the ibew for me knowly having a chance I could die at any second from electric shock!! These guys know vary well what risk there taking. Not sermon just a thought

  18. psljax says: Mar 28, 2016 9:45 AM

    Regardless there is a relationship between football or any contact sport and head trama. All governing bodies..ncca nfl…nhl….need to take this seriously and provide the requisite data to determine the affects. Athletes need to be aware and accept the risks of playing. Lawyers should not be in the equation..just medical professionals. Unfortunately, sports is big business and Lawyers run big businesses.

  19. chesswhileyouplaycheckers says: Mar 28, 2016 9:45 AM

    Dr. Ann McKee… preceded NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller’s declaration that there is “certainly” a link between football and CTE.
    —————-

    The NFL once again having trouble understanding how scientifically valid data sets are created.
    I’m shocked, shocked I tell you

  20. zigthepatsfan says: Mar 28, 2016 9:47 AM

    kissmysandwich says:
    Mar 28, 2016 8:38 AM
    It’s idiotic to say maybe it’s 1% after 90% of the people you studied have it. Science lacks common sense.
    ———-
    The brains that were studied were studied because those players thought they had it or might have it. Most of them were right. That’s why it’s hard to say how many players overall have it. The ones that don’t think they have it arent donating their brains

  21. travishenrykid says: Mar 28, 2016 9:47 AM

    Susan says:
    Mar 28, 2016 9:22 AM
    It can happen in Pee Wee High School college or NFL
    Prove when ?
    ———————————————-

    Since they can’t, many parents who care about their kids won’t let them play football.

  22. blowfishes says: Mar 28, 2016 9:54 AM

    You play a game where heads are hit or are used to hit (perhaps illegally) and you claim that the NFL didn’t do enough to make you aware of the possible consequences. Can you imagine a boxer claiming this? This world has simply succumbed to the compensation culture where people want something for nothing.

    Sure, guys from yesteryear want some of the wealth that the League now has, but this is setting precident for current players who are paid in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.

    A line needs to be drawn where anyone playing before 2010 can put in a claim, but those after knew EXACTLY what they were getting into by playing a contact sport.

  23. freedomofspeechyesway says: Mar 28, 2016 9:55 AM

    What percentage of the general population develops CTE?

    Without that number every one of these studies and articles are literally irrelevant and meaningless.

  24. streetyson says: Mar 28, 2016 10:01 AM

    12brichandfamous says:
    Mar 28, 2016 9:23 AM
    …Her point is that there is no data to scientifically infer anything at this time..
    ————————
    No! – there’s scientific data from 90 case studies! What she’s saying is that there’s enough to scientifically infer some linkage but that as a sample set it’s far too small and non-random to infer that a lot of players develop CTE or what the extent of the problem is.

  25. puntonfirstdown says: Mar 28, 2016 10:16 AM

    Ask any player from the old days, and over 90% of them say they’d do their NFL career over again in a heartbeat.

  26. BobbyHanks63 says: Mar 28, 2016 10:31 AM

    This is not about the concern for the health of NFL players but more the fear of very possible financial loses dealing with the court cases coming in the future. It’s a losing court cases.

    These same arguments of what can be ascertained as a certainty of what may or may not have contributed to the lives and deaths of NFL players is merely a disguised future legal argument of whose responsibility it is for the care and death of NFL players caused by C.T.E.

    When it comes to teams and players they want to attack … no such mention of clarity or certainty of proof is given a second thought. Even when scientific and professional proof is offered as a defense against baseless accusations leading up to severe and unfair fines and punishments, they act if they suddenly can’t read or write. They offer instead self-righteous indignation from the demands of their player’s who want fair and equitable treatment on and off the field and when after they retire.

    I see the league as a study in ‘Hypocrisy Incarnate’. The league’s driving force is money made and or money lost, nothing they do would I entertain as highly moral or justified. They just want to keep the gravy train moving full speed ahead. Their arguments from one topic to the other is a study in blatant hypocrisy. They fear the loss of great amounts of money from future law suits involving the sicknesses and deaths of their players from C.T.E. They are always trying defend themselves by nefarious means. Is that not true? The post is another form of hypocrisy and misdirecting the crux of the argument for their future benefit only with little regard for the players or their family’s future

  27. BobbyHanks63 says: Mar 28, 2016 10:33 AM

    Correction “It’s about losing future court cases”

  28. dryzzt23 says: Mar 28, 2016 10:33 AM

    Screw the players. I couldn’t care less who has CTE. The players KNEW the risk yet they chose to play anyway.

    Players today get compensated 100 times higher than the average wage so don’t cry me a river about these players.

    I’d have sympathy if the players had no clue that bumping heads, and head impact would cause damage. But that is NOT the case. Anyone with common sense knows that hitting your head on something will cause some sort of damage.

    Again i say screw the players, the anti-capitalist media that supports the players, and the UNION that protects them.

  29. torebear says: Mar 28, 2016 10:33 AM

    Finally someone explaining the limitations of our knowledge.

  30. thefatlazygamer says: Mar 28, 2016 10:37 AM

    Has anyone that has been tested for CTE ever not had it? Serious question.

    You can only test for it when the patient is dead, perhaps is there a link to the dying process that damages the brain? Perhaps CTE is far more common and football doesn’t necessarily cause it but it also doesn’t help it either obviously.

    Perhaps CTE is simply something everyone develops? I simply don’t know enough about it and am too lazy to research it, someone tell me!

    If anyone knows in the comments, let me know.

    Sorry for not being educated on this topic. A lot of people are in the dark on this.

  31. kissmysandwich says: Mar 28, 2016 10:37 AM

    kcchefs58 says:
    Mar 28, 2016 9:31 AM
    ———————-
    Science relies on repeatable results. Common sense varies by person, region, culture, etc. I’d venture to say there is almost nothing everyone would agree on, thus common sense does not exist.
    _____________________________________

    Common sense isn’t about agreeing. It is about accepting reality. People can disagree about gravity all they want, but if they step off a bridge they’re going to fall. That’s common sense. Just like when you study brains and 90% have CTE, COMMON SENSE says there is probably something to this. The Doctor that discovered CTE specifically found it because of concussions and that is why this entire debate exists. Common sense truly is not very common, but that’s because most humans are idiots that simply believe what they’re told. They don’t use the most precious gift they’ve ever received…their mind.

  32. realtruthteller100 says: Mar 28, 2016 10:37 AM

    and yet the nfl has to spend millions changing rules and teaching kids how to play “heads up” to cow tow to these morons who know nohting! in my day, gettin your bell was rung was just that, no big deal. i got mine rung all the time and i turned out fine. were becoming a nation of wusses who care more about our skulls then our skoal. sad but true

  33. mrzazz41387 says: Mar 28, 2016 10:46 AM

    There are so many things that still need to be researched. The only thing that is proven, is that repeated blows to the brain are linked to CTE. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors as well. If the NFL didn’t recognize that link, they wouldn’t be making rule changes to reduce blows to the head. In addition to the rule changes, the NFL would greatly benefit from investing in trying to treat CTE, and other brain injuries. If players know they will be taken care of, there won’t be a mass exodus once further research is done.

  34. hawksfansince77 says: Mar 28, 2016 11:16 AM

    Thank you….finally a point of scientific empiricism! I’d like to see studies of general public, boxers, soccer players….etc. Also, would the media STOP saying “football causes CTE”! Uh, no…as far as we know, multiple head trauma/concussions do!

  35. therealraider says: Mar 28, 2016 11:16 AM

    What the hell is taking the science so long to figure this out? We can put a man on the moon within 1 decade but research on this subject goes into its 3rd decade. Steve Young and Troy Aikman retired due to concussion concerns almost 20 years ago. There must of been some kind of knowledge back then. The progress we are making is excruciatingly slow. Let me predict PFT headline in 2026.. “We still dont know”.

  36. PanchoHerreraFanClub says: Mar 28, 2016 11:17 AM

    The scientists need to take a course in statistics. Non random samples if larger enough yield valid data. Most doctors have never taken and statistics past 101 level and would know a correlation it bit them on the ass.

  37. californiaqid says: Mar 28, 2016 11:19 AM

    As of this year I no longer support football. Please consider joining me.

  38. steelerben says: Mar 28, 2016 11:29 AM

    kissmysandwich says:
    Mar 28, 2016 10:37 AM
    Just like when you study brains and 90% have CTE, COMMON SENSE says there is probably something to this.

    =================================================

    And there is something to this. There is the fact that the brains being given over to study after the person has died are being given over because there is a suspicion that they may have CTE. Common sense would indicate that if you are looking to study the rates of obesity you wouldn’t go only to all you can eat buffets to conduct that study. The bias in the subjects are resulting in a bias in the study.

    The only way to conduct an actual scientific study is to have a control group, which would be people that have never participated in athletics at all, a group that were athletes in non-contact sports, a group that were athletes in contact (non-football) sports, and a group of athletes that were former football players. In all cases the groups would need to be selected at random, not because there was a suspected issue. These groups would need to be fairly large so that you could gain some kind of statistical significance. You would study each sub group of brains, compare the results from all of the pools, and draw conclusions from that.

    Science isn’t based on “common sense”. It is based on empirical results gained from objective experimentation that can be repeated.

  39. tremoluxman says: Mar 28, 2016 12:02 PM

    When faced with a problem and you don’t like the obvious cause of said problem, always call for more study. Or appoint a Blue Ribbon panel of ‘experts’.

    Congress does it all the time.

  40. monkeesfan says: Mar 28, 2016 12:13 PM

    That CTE is found in players (like Chris Henry) and people who never had concussions should have raised red flags about some of the assumptions going into CTE research. Given Ann McKee’s mild demoagoguery in some previous interviews, for her to say CTE can’t be rare among football players should be questioned. Yes, more research is needed, but for a change medical people and the media need to come out and tell the blunt truth that football IS SAFE and head injury concerns are real but not such that the game’s physicality needs to be dumbed down or players babied.

  41. zigthepatsfan says: Mar 28, 2016 12:52 PM

    dryzzt23 says:
    Mar 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Screw the players. I couldn’t care less who has CTE. The players KNEW the risk yet they chose to play anyway.

    No. Sure they knew there would be aches and pains from playing but nobody knew how much permanent damage could be done to their brain. Not only didnt they know, the league lied and told them there was nothing to worry about. Heck even today many just brush off concussions as no big deal and you’re going to claim guys 30, 40, 50 years knew?
    Shoot the league today still isnt willing to actually admit there’s any link yet the players always knew?

  42. firecracker87 says: Mar 28, 2016 1:14 PM

    snowdood163 says:
    Mar 28, 2016 8:58 AM
    Do we really need to keep rehashing this? I’m pretty sure everyone nowadays knows football is bad for your health, as is any other activity where you repeatedly bash your body (including your head) into something solid.

    —————————————————————-

    Yes, they do need to rehash it. It’s most certainly all about $$$ – what they have to figure out is who’s going to profit the most.

  43. largent80 says: Mar 28, 2016 1:58 PM

    Ann McKee’s point is bang on. The only way to really tell the incidence of CTE in the NFL today is to develop an effective brain scan that can work on living players. She’s probably right to assume it’s pervasive, but at this point she (and the rest of us) can only guess.

    The bigger question is: if you were a live, active NFL player, and were told that you could take a non-invasive test to discern whether you have already started to develop CTE in your brain – would you want to take the test?

  44. weepingjebus says: Mar 28, 2016 3:05 PM

    I don’t know about the players, but the NFL front office is demonstrably at 100%.

  45. mmack66 says: Mar 28, 2016 3:43 PM

    Remember when MNF had the helmets of the two teams playing that night crash into each other.

  46. mmack66 says: Mar 28, 2016 3:49 PM

    monkeesfan says:
    Mar 28, 2016 12:13 PM

    That CTE is found in players (like Chris Henry) and people who never had concussions should have raised red flags about some of the assumptions going into CTE research. Given Ann McKee’s mild demoagoguery in some previous interviews, for her to say CTE can’t be rare among football players should be questioned. Yes, more research is needed, but for a change medical people and the media need to come out and tell the blunt truth that football IS SAFE and head injury concerns are real but not such that the game’s physicality needs to be dumbed down or players babied.
    ——————————-

    You don’t have to have had a concussion to get CTE.

  47. mmack66 says: Mar 28, 2016 4:03 PM

    californiaqid says:
    Mar 28, 2016 11:19 AM

    As of this year I no longer support football. Please consider joining me.
    ——————

    Screw that. I love watching football.

  48. JSpicoli says: Mar 28, 2016 5:36 PM

    What percentage of the Gen-pop has CTE due to avg daily living, sports and being dropped by mom etc?

    It’s like the second hand smoke people saying all lung cancers in non-smokers is due to 2nd hand, or that all drunks cause any car wreck they are in.

    It is a convenient and feel-good bias.

  49. switchwitch59 says: Mar 30, 2016 4:53 PM

    thefatlazygamer says:
    Mar 28, 2016 10:37 AM

    Has anyone that has been tested for CTE ever not had it? Serious question.
    ——————————-
    I read somewhere, I think here on a different thread, that 90 of 94 players tested had CTE, that means 4 did not.

    But trying to weed thru lies and misinformation is difficult. I also don’t know which group testing for CTE had those numbers, there is more than one group studying it.

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