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.