Latest brain study shows 110 of 111 donations from NFL players had CTE

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While researchers admit their methodology isn’t exact and they’re not predicting rates for the future, the latest study regarding the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy shows a strong correlation.

Via Rick Maese of the Washington Post, researchers at Boston University who are studying brains donated by families of former NFL players said that 110 of the 111 donations showed signs of CTE.

While that’s not a random sample reflecting the entire sport (the donations come largely from players who were struggling with some issue or had committed suicide), the big numbers do alarm those studying the issue.

“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,” neuropathologist Ann McKee said. “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.”

All told, the Boston University study covered 202 brains donated by families of men who had played some level of football. CTE was discovered in 177 of them (87 percent). The 99 percent of former NFL players was the highest level. The study also showed CTE in 3-of-14 who played at the high school level (21.4 percent), 48-of-53 who played in college (90.6 percent), 9-of-14 who competed semiprofessionally (64.3 percent) and 7-of-8 who played in the CFL (87.5).

McKee said the study provides: “overwhelming circumstantial evidence that CTE is linked to football.”

The league has pledged to devote $100 million and resources toward the effort, and spoke at the league meetings this spring about specific research into helmet safety.

“We appreciate the work done by Dr. McKee and her colleagues for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement provided to PFT. “Case studies such as those compiled in this updated paper are important to further advancing the science and progress related to head trauma. 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. As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE.  The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.

“In 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million in support for independent medical research and engineering advancements in neuroscience related topics. This is in addition to the $100  million that the NFL and its partners are already spending on medical and neuroscience research.”

The authors of the studies have admitted some limitations, pointing out that the game has changed in recent years from equipment changes to rules. But the sheer size of the numbers still stand as worthy of further study.

90 responses to “Latest brain study shows 110 of 111 donations from NFL players had CTE

  1. And earned millions of $$. Regardless of the CTE findings, there will always be players willing to sacrifice their long-term health in exchange for millions.

  2. We need better equipment!!! 100 M is not enough when you are a multi-billion dollar company. We have young children that are at risk here so the NFL better make a major impact on this or else no one will want to play the game in the future.

  3. Silly Scientists….

    don’t they know the NFL doesn’t believe in science?
    they believe in witch hunts, voodoo, corporate profits, the Easter Bunny, predetermined outcomes, the Tooth Fairy, convictions w/o evidence and vendettas

  4. this is why Im on the player’s side that they should get pair more. The owners are mostly incompetent, inherited their teams and are clowns (browns) or drug addicts (colts). why should they keep all the money when the players are ruining their bodies and brains to play. theres too much money in the nfl, but if someone is going to keep it it should be the players!

  5. I am a HUGE football fan and I see this as a setback, but not a threat to the game. As long as the ability to earn so much money is there guys will risk everything. Knowing what we know now, maybe future lawsuits are off the table. It will come down to finding a way to repair the brain or overcome the symptoms rather than preventing it. That is how medicine works. Cures and long term medications make more money than prevention. Players should all have a significant dollar amount (still less than 1%) pulled from their paycheck and donated to CTE research. It might seem like more taxation, but for future generations of NFL players is is necessary.

  6. This study is like testing for liver damage at a drunk tank.

    CTE is a serious issue, but any reputable researcher would question the small sample size and the likelyhood that those that donated their brains would most likely be suffering from CTE.

  7. It’s pretty clear that a large percentage of NFL players have/get CTE

    My question is, of NON-NFL players what percentage have/get CTE? … for the numbers to mean anything, there needs to be a baseline study to determine how much higher are NFL players against non-NFL players.

  8. the guy who should be paying out all that cash is the guy who held the gun to their heads when they signed the contract…this has gone beyond reality – could any reasonably thinking human being not imagine that playing a contact sport from kiddie ball to professional level is without a cost – PLEASE! I think anyone who believes that has brain damage…for what my 2 cents is worth…

  9. So, is CTE a natural phenomenon for all humans like dementia, alzheimenrs, parkinsons, mental illness, depression,etc…

    We won’t understand the severity of concusions until they look for where they don’t expect to find it.

  10. “gtodriver” nailed it… not much left to say, but two things:

    -Were people really surprised to find out that smashing your head repeatedly into something was bad?

    -Until we have a proper sample size representing all segments of the population CTE studies are basically worthless.

  11. You can’t draw any accurate conclusions from this. The studied brains came from people who already suspected they had CTE, it is no surprise that 99% of them actually did.

  12. Pretty soon Football at any level under PRO will become a “Club” sport with no school affiliations , because of Insurance costs

  13. nationalfishingleague says:
    Jul 25, 2017 5:45 PM

    It’s pretty clear that a large percentage of NFL players have/get CTE

    My question is, of NON-NFL players what percentage have/get CTE? … for the numbers to mean anything, there needs to be a baseline study to determine how much higher are NFL players against non-NFL players.

    CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, so people that don’t take multiple hits to the head on a regular basis likely have a very low percentage of having/developing CTE.

  14. Remember when the NFL used to celebrate big hits, and even had a segment devoted to it, called “Jacked Up” before the MNF game?

  15. I remember reading an article around five years ago whose premise was that the NFL would no longer exist within 20 years. I dismissed the article as nonsense at the time.

    But in the last couple of years, I can’t help but wonder if the article will eventually be proved correct. Yes, there is selection bias in the above study and much more data needs to be collected.

    However, every piece of new information we get points to CTE being a systemic problem for football players. If this pattern of data continues, we will reach a point where we can no longer in good conscience allow these young men to damage their minds for the sake of our entertainment.

    Perhaps a series of dramatic rule changes can save the support. Perhaps a revolutionary new helmet may finally protect the brains of these men. But rule changes significant enough to prevent CTE would likely leave the sport unrecognizable. And no matter how high-tech the equipment has been, no engineer has been able to beat Isaac Newton.

  16. I’m finally over the NFL, owners have no loyality ! The commish wants an international team and 18 games lol ! Owners and the league don’t care about the fans. If the owners can’t squeeze hundreds of millions out of their city they just move … good riddance !

  17. I say we resolve the problem thusly: install clause into every NFL contract that says “the play realizes that spending a lifetime smashing your head into other people’s heads could potential he cause future damage”.

    Would that about cover it?

  18. Let me tell you something. I was a pretty good football player when I was a kid, but I didn’t have college level talent and certainly not pro football talent. Throw in I wasn’t big enough, strong enough, nor fast enough, and you get the picture.
    But if someone told me I could snap my fingers and have the speed, power, size, and strength to go back and have the opportunity to play in the NFL, I’d do it in a heartbeat. So would thousands of you, I bet.
    Life is about choices and we all make them. A chance to make enough money to take care of my family and their families would be worth it to me, just as it is with these players today.

  19. kd75 says:
    Jul 25, 2017 6:32 PM
    Have they figured out what is wrong with Joe Pisarcik ‘s brain?


    You still remember him though, right?

  20. Folks, new equipment is not an immediate answer.

    You can’t just say “there should be better helmets”… this is a violent sport where impact is glorified and rewarded.

    That line of thinking is akin to people who believe cars should be safer so people don’t die in wrecks… cars can’t factor drunk drivers and eventually EVERY car is unsafe given enough speed.

    Likewise, one man using his entire body to collide with another man produces physical damage… broken bones, torn ligaments and muscles, even organ damage… why should the brain be magically safe from football? It’s irrational.

  21. You will see fewer white people playing football.
    There will still be people playing it, but maybe interest will gradually decline as interest shifts to less dangerous sports like soccer and lacrosse.

  22. cobrala2 says:
    Jul 25, 2017 7:23 PM

    Folks, new equipment is not an immediate answer.

    You can’t just say “there should be better helmets”… this is a violent sport where impact is glorified and rewarded. ..
    There are CURRENTLY far safer helmets on the Market, but the NFL does not use them because it would be an admission that they were using less safe equipment for years and the safer helmet makers can’t afford to pay the NFL for licensing.

  23. mmack66 says:
    Jul 25, 2017 6:37 PM
    Remember when the NFL used to celebrate big hits, and even had a segment devoted to it, called “Jacked Up” before the MNF game?
    – – – –

    That was an ESPN segment, not the big, bad NFL.

    However, In the 80s and 90s, the NFL used to sell “Greatest Hits” type of videos, but as far as I know, they don’t promote or sell those types of videos anymore and haven’t for years…

  24. Consider the illogical nature of those dismissing the study by claiming that players could have contracted CTE during play prior to the professional level. By defending the NFL in this manner, they are endorsing youths participating in an activity that is causing brain damage.

  25. based on these guys wonderlick scores and the scourge of drug smoking going on in our nations colleges id be suprise if they didnt have brain damage before they entered the national football league.

  26. Dr. David chao (@profootballdoc) posted on twitter that most elderly people have CTE to some degree. Obviously it’s more damning when the NFL has 50 years olds with it. Sure, tackling 220 lb men isnt good for yoyr brain but saying that CTE is caused by football is sensationalism.

  27. The Roman Colesseum spectators justified being entertained by the human carnage by telling themselves that the gladiators would be granted payment or freedom.

    NFL fans justify being entertained by humans breaking their minds and bodies by telling themselves that the players made the choice to be well paid for doing so.

  28. I walked away first week when I was competing for the LCB position on the varsity in 10th grade. Made it auto because I was a Captain in 9th grade (odd tradition). Would have been the back-up QB too although I hated QB and wanted reps at WR.

    I did it because 1: We didn’t hydrate in those days and I am one of those people who is always thirsty. I am positive I came close in 6th and 8th grade to dying.

    2: Anyone who has ever played knows the worst hits are from your own teammates. Like RCB meet RLB when the RB dips or whatever. Took me 4 hours to walk 2 miles home, after getting two of those in one game. I barfed and passed out. Didn’t even go to school until Tuesday.

    3: I could throw a baseball and knew I would get paid one day and I did.

    If it wasn’t for 3, I would have kept playing The hydrate thing was something I was going to bring up because anyone from my era knows and it affected me more than others. I knew I was good enough to say something and I’d been a big Gatorade fan since 6th grade (1969 season).

    But the hits and the KO’s were really not an issue but looking back I feel like I missed out on something but also feel lucky that I missed out on something.

  29. So if you’re a total goof like Manziel, you get $$$$million$$$$ in guarantees, don’t play much, get dropped, and leave the game with $$$buck$$$ and all your marbles.


  30. As a former college lineman seeing 90% of brains of college players showing CTE definitely causes some concern. Obviously the samples are small (and biased) but I have no doubt repeated blows to the head caused some sort of damage. That said, I loved the sport and would do it all over again in a second.

  31. The brains were donated because the families knew they were damaged so it shouldn’t be a surprise almost all of them had signs of CTE.

  32. In twenty yrs football as we know it will not exist. If the mothers of the world wanted to end football it will be over tomorrow. Think I’m crazy..who would have said that about boxing in 1988-89 with Tyson in his hayday. Now you can’t even tell me who the heavyweight champ is. Looking at Ali and all of the other punch drunk fighters scared the crap out of everyone and boxing declined rapidly…also mma s popularity. Just think it will look drastically different….already seeing major changes in the fifth and sixth grade level , which I coach. I hope I’m wrong…love the sport, but this cte stuff is scary and very real.

  33. I worry about the guys fighting MMA. No one is even PRETENDING to look out for their well being

  34. The game will eventually be banned . Kids can then sit around play computer games and eat Doritos . While others will spend their free time breaking into people’s homes. Once they get rid of the great game of football. They will come after hockey.

  35. Well I would like to see a more wide ranging study.
    What percent of men that have NEVER played football have it? Never Played Sports? Basically against other professions. So we have a real world idea of how it affects athletes and non-athletes alike.

  36. NFL players are modern day gladiators. They should be informed of the risk associated with playing NFL FOOTBALL, waive their right to sue, have their future NFL induced medical costs addressed AND be paid very well for their services.

  37. What is the correlation between football payers lack of developing their brains in school and CTE? How many of these brains that they studied were actually fully developed to learn cognitive skills, other than playing football? Maybe that is why so many have CTE, and the hits are getting blamed.

  38. Just the simple act of playing football is now akin to smoking cigarettes. You could suffer debilitating injury without even knowing it and have it show up years later.

    The more you do it the better chance you will adversely affect the quality of your life and your longevity.

    Each are fun to do, particularly when young and healthy.

    Anyone who does either is simply taking a risk that could be catastrophic.

    Football has always been dangerous because injury was likely. Knowing that just playing and not suffering an “injury” could mess you up should be an eye opener.

  39. I’m a youth football director and we only have 17 players currently registered in k-8th grade. Just 4 years ago we had 210 kids the trends are heading to many community youth football leagues will be no longer. I might have to suspend the season come August 15

  40. I think what some of you are missing is that many players signed contracts at 20 years old not knowing the potential risks. As players have become bigger, faster, stronger the risks have increased. Most of us would love to play, but how many of us would sign up if the cost of playing was debilitating brain damage at 45? This study isn’t conclusive and needs all the things people are talking about, however, issue no. 1 on the negotiating when the CBA expires should be player choice for helments. They are the ones at risk and no amount of sponsorship dollars should come before player safety.

  41. A whole lot of men and women are working in a whole lot of jobs that are far more dangerous for a lot less money. Let someone suggest they get paid better and the right wingnuts go berserk.

  42. The one brain not testing positive for CTE belonged to Warren Sapp, but it was determined to suffer simply from stupidity. When pressed for comment, Sapp provided, “What? They took my brain already?”

  43. get rid of those STUPID metal helmets, put Riddel out of business and protect the players, by replacing with a rubber, brain protecting alternative and TEACH PROPER TECHNIQUE, eject any idiot for not doing so and send any coach who put’s bounty’s on players and rewards spearing to jail. Why is it a crime to punch a defenseless person on the street, but not in football? Why doesn’t this happen in Rugby? No metal or thick pads and proper technique

  44. It’s clear from the comments that 90% of you either didn’t bother reading the details of the study or don’t understand them. You were too eager to mash your keyboards and take another opportunity to deny science and call players overpaid babies.

  45. Twice in the last couple of weeks, I watched 4 different teams play in the Legends Football League. That’s the womens’ league where the women wear small shoulder pads and small tops which show lots of cleavage, and basically wear thongs for bottoms. They also wear leggings which go up to their knees and can wear arm pads if they like. Their helmets look like something an Army Air Corps pilot would wear in WWII, complete with visor.
    They play full contact tackle football and they often crash into the sideline walls as the players in the Arena Football League do. They play with 7 players on each side and the field is 50 yards long and 30 yards wide.
    Considering what these women are wearing to play tackle football, it’s a wonder they all don’t get carried off the field on stretchers. I would guess the average weight for these women is about 140 to 150 lbs, with the heaviest pushing 200 lbs. But they hit surprisingly hard.
    I admit, I tuned into the first game because I couldn’t believe what they were wearing, but after the initial shock wore off, I enjoyed watching them play. Some of them can really play and they hit hard, too. I wouldn’t mind going to see a game in person.
    The league used to be called the Lingerie Football League and the players had to dress — or more appropriately undress — in garters, bras and panties. But after some players and womens’ groups complained, they changed the name of the league to the Legends Football League in 2013 and allowed them to wear the somewhat less risque outfits they wear now.
    Still, you get the idea that they’re trying to sell sex first and football second, and I must admit, it worked on me.
    Check it out some time and see what you think.

  46. This is where football will loose some of its popularity and possibly not even be America’s top sport. As more studies happen more people will want to put their kids into other sports. Those sports will be what High Schools will feature for homecomings and their will be a culture shift in the country. Football is part of American culture because it is what events are planned around. Takes years, probably a few generations, but it is bound to happen. This was once a horse racing and boxing country and then baseball was the past time. Nothing is forever.

    Parents, just don’t make it soccer. Have them play Lacrosse or baseball.

  47. Don’t cry for better equipment. The knocking around of the brain in the cranium isn’t avoidable in football anymore than it is in boxing. If anything they should be look at playing with less equipment. I love football and boxing but really just have to understand and accept the risk involved or don’t play/watch.

    “Sometimes you just have to be realistic” – Logan Ninefingers.

  48. There was a column on this site about 6 (?) weeks ago that discussed a study of men who had only played HS football (I think they wen tot HS in the 1950s), and the incidence of CTE was the same as in the general population.

  49. Scientists are making new discoveries all the time. As newer and better technology becomes available, they’re finding out new things. They find links between things, and make guesses, then years later, as new discoveries are made, they update the data. We see this all the time. Just like different people are allergic to different things, I think the combination of certain things that we eat, and the hits to the head, cause brain issues. We’re discovering more and more about the affects sugar has on our bodies and brains. The inflammation caused by eating too much sugar. More so in some than other (just like allergies). So if your brain is inflamed from sugar, and you get hit in the head repeatedly, you could be more susceptible to brain issues. There are a lot of things we haven’t discovered. They need to study the diets of old timers like Fran Tarkenton and Jim Brown, and compare it to the diets of guys with brain issues. Remember when eggs were bad for you, and now they’re good for you? The eggs didn’t change. The science did. Remember when carbs were good, and now ….etc. There is still more that we don’t know, than what we do know about CTE. Lots more.

  50. In the old days, athletes wore a concussion with a bit of honor, as in ‘we’ve been in the battle’. You were likely to not report a blow to the head unless it was obvious you didn’t know if you were on foot or horseback. From that era come many of the brains in the study. Think Mike Webster.

    Improving the chances of not getting a concussion center on two things: proper blocking and tackling, never leading with the head, and better equipment.

  51. I would be curious to see them compare NFL players brains to people that didn’t play football and people in other professions. I’m not doubting if you play football, especially for players who make it in the NFL, you will likely develop CTE, but I don’t ever see anything for other professions or the average person. What does the brain of other people look like at the age of the NFL players brain they tested? The info is probably out there, but news articles don’t compare. They only say football players brains have CTE and that’s it.

  52. Is it fair to suggest or question that the 111 brains donated for the study were the most extreme cases?

    I mean the guys that played football, retired and lead a happy normal life, how many of those brains got donated for the study? Any?

  53. Bogus… How about you also test people that never played football and compare!!!

    Because then the study will officially be trash!

  54. I bet a pharmaceutical company is already working on a ‘magic pill’ for ‘CTE’.

  55. Read the study guys. The researchers discuss the selection process and the sample size, and even with that their conclusions are shocking and should serve as a wake-up call for the League, the players, and fans alike. Stop trying to make excuses the are not based in fact.

  56. This will affect the game. I am a former player that suffers from general anxiety disorder and one that also now coaches youth football. I have parent’s asking me all the time, what I think. It’s a scary situation. I believe football is the best sport when it comes to teaching life’s lessons and I coach those up in youths as I can. I tell parents that we cannot prevent what happens in football it is a sport that is highly unpredictable. All I can do is try to coach the correct way and try to make the game safer for children whose parent’s allow them to play. The game will change, it is not a matter of “if” anymore.

  57. Unless I missed something, were those NFL players from the period of say….the 70’s thru entire 90’s?? It’s not the same game today! Better equipment, safer rules, and improved safety measures with med personnel. You will never eliminate concussions from any sport. Think MMA, Boxing, even girly sports like soccer have concussions. My local HS teams have had kids in softball, basketball, and wrestling out with concussions. It’s called awareness!!! 20-30 years ago they were not reported incidents. To truly lessen the rate of concussions they must remove the facemasks and go back to a rugby style form of tackling as they did with the old leather helmets. I’m 49 and I had a few in college FB. Do I get depressed? absolutely. Do I forget things my wife tells me? Yes. Do I love FB? Hell yeah. Does my 16 yr old son play? Damn right….he loves it!
    Best frickin sport in America!!

  58. How many of these donations came from former NFL players that lived long healthy lives?

    If they did a study of NFL players that died of cancer…and included only players that died of cancer…does that mean football caused the cancer?

    For me the bottom line is this…There are risks associated with many professions. I don’t hear much outcry to ban matches and lighters to make a fireman’s job safer. This country isn’t close to outlawing guns to make a Cops job safer. Football comes with risks…and also great rewards. It’s a decision one has to make. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Keep changing the game to make it safer and pretty soon, you don’t have that game any more. You have something else. And who knows if that will be as loved as football.

  59. “You can’t draw any accurate conclusions from this. The studied brains came from people who already suspected they had CTE, it is no surprise that 99% of them actually did.”

    correct! this is an extremely biased study. If it truly happened in 99% of players, there would be no living ex-nfl players at all, instead it is a very small overall percentage of all the players who kill themselves or have major neurologic issues.

  60. I don’t want to be insensitive but weren’t these brains all donated because the person was dead and their family thought they had CTE? CTE is not a football disease but if all the damaged brains examined happen to be former football players how could the story go any other way?

  61. I thought the people that don’t believe that the Ideal Gas Theory applies to objects filled with air were dumb, but you CTE skeptics/deniers take the cake.

  62. And what role does drugs play? Could habitual roid-use in particular seriously physically weaken the brain tissue like we already know they do with other key organs (like skin, heart, kidneys, liver, and reproduction)? i.e. weakening the brain tissue sufficiently to make it more susceptible to CTE damage? Seems like roids could be a potentially major factor here but of course families won’t push on that angle.

  63. Great comment by Matt Burke, former NFL lineman, who asked what about the 15,000 players who went on to lead normal lives. Matt puts the study in perspective. They looked at 111/15000 brains selected because of existing issues. That is roughly a sample of 0.74 percent. So, in light of the process, they have determined that less than one percent of former players suffer CTE.

    In addition, there is no control group of players, no control group from the public, and no random sampling of brains from among former players. But, draw whatever conclusions you wish.

  64. sceaglesfan says:
    Jul 25, 2017 9:53 PM
    I worry about the guys fighting MMA. No one is even PRETENDING to look out for their well being

    I am a boxing fan and in the combat sports they simply accept that this what happens when you participate. I think football has to become realistic about it as well.

  65. The NFL should eliminate turning pink and start raising awareness to this or another cause like males committing suicide or homeless veterans.

  66. The thing about cte is, it’s not just concussions causing it, it’s sub concussive blows. having played football, high school and college, and now I box, this is beyond alarming. Lol I wish I was tall enough to have played basketball and fell in love with that sport instead lmao

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