New research from the University at Buffalo is calling into question the idea that contact sports lead to neurological damage that affects athletes later in life.
The research on retired players from the NFL’s Bills and NHL’s Sabres found that the former players were actually doing well mentally later in life, contrary to expectations.
“News coverage has given the public the impression that CTE is inevitable among professional contact sport athletes,” the researchers wrote, via the Buffalo News. “The results of our comprehensive investigation . . . do not support this notion.”
The former Bills and Sabres players were compared to a control group of similarly aged athletes from non-contact sports, such as swimmers, runners and triathletes. The researchers found that the non-contact athletes were in better physical condition than the retired football and hockey players, many of whom had suffered orthopedic injuries, but that there were no differences in brain function.
“Our noncontact sport control group turned out to be better educated and in much better health than our contact sport athletes,” the researchers wrote, “but we discovered they were not substantially different in most aspects of functioning, except physical activity.”
Barry S. Willer, a professor of psychiatry who was lead investigator on the study, concluded that CTE is “much more rare than we thought.”