The prevalence of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy in former NFL players has sparked concern that current and former football players at all levels are facing increased risk of cognitive problems later in life. A recent study from JAMA Neurology suggests that there is no enhanced risk for former high-school football players.
Data from a comprehensive study of more than 3,900 Wisconsin men who graduated high school in 1957 revealed that “there was no statistically or clinically significant harmful association between playing football in high school and increased cognitive impairment or depression later in life, on average.”
This means that, for men who attended high school in the mid-to-late-1950s, playing high school football “did not appear to be a major risk factor for later-life cognitive impairment or depression.”
It’s an encouraging development for current and former high school football players, especially in light of the advances in helmet technology and the sensitivity to player health and safety. Even if those advances are balanced by players being bigger, stronger, and faster in 2017 (and thus the collisions entailing greater force), the study indicates that a history of playing high school football did not result in an increase in cognitive problems in comparison to those who didn’t play.
Of course, none of this means anything to current and former college and professional players. Common sense would suggest that continued exposure to head trauma beyond high school (and beyond college) is more likely to trigger cognitive issues. However, to the extent some have suggested that any current or former football player at any level is assuming the risk of enhanced cognitive issues later in life, this study cuts against such claims.