NFL estimates nearly three in 10 former players will have cognitive problems

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When it comes to concussions, the NFL has come a long way from the days of lies and half-truths regarding concussions.  (Maybe the NFL eventually will make that same progress when it comes to botched investigations of player misconduct.)

After years of downplaying and denying the long-term risks of concussion, the NFL is fully awake.  The process began five years ago next month, but it’s taken some time for the league to embrace completely the idea that it’s not good for the brain when the skull repeatedly hits other things hard.  Via the Associated Press, the league has acknowledged in connection with the settlement of the concussion litigation that nearly three in 10 former players eventually will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia.

The disclosures made by the NFL came as part of the formal settlement approval process.  The NFL acknowledged that the rates of Alzheimer’s disease and moderate cognitive impairment are “materially higher than those expected in the general population” and would arise at “notably younger ages.”

The league also pointed out that the estimates are “reasonable and conservative,” with a deliberate effort to “overstat[e]the number of players who will develop [illnesses],” so that the fund available for retired players with qualifying illnesses will have enough money to cover them all.  Even so, the numbers are attracting plenty of attention.

“This statement clears up all the confusion and doubt manufactured over the years questioning the link between brain trauma and long-term neurological impairment,” former NFL player and long-time advocate for concussion awareness Chris Nowinski told the New York Times.  “We have come a long way since the days of outright denial.  The number of former players predicted to develop dementia is staggering, and that total does not even include former players who develop mood and behavior disorders and die prior to developing the cognitive symptoms associated with [chronic traumatic encephelopathy].”

Even if former players had fully known the risks during their careers, most would have still played.  Today, with full knowledge of the risks of long-term health problems available, football players still clamor to play in the NFL.