Buffalo researchers find brains of retired Bills, Sabres players are healthy

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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.”

49 responses to “Buffalo researchers find brains of retired Bills, Sabres players are healthy

  1. “Our noncontact sport control group turned out to be better educated…”

    That statements says a lot.

  2. This study appears to be an outlier compared to the data already present on CTE and other concussion related damage to the brain. It’s certainly an interesting find. I’ll be curious to see if there are any follow up studies performed finding similar results.

  3. It just demonstrates that there’s an urgent need for much more research to be done so athletes and parents of young athletes can make informed decisions about the risks of contact sports. But such research is really hard to do – the pool of players who’ve retired from professional-level non-contact sports is so small, it’s hard to carry out a quality study that can form a universally applicable solution.

    This study, for example, involved a mere 21 living former Bills and Sabers. That’s a really small number for a comprehensive scientific study. And of course, that’s a self-selecting group. I mean, those suffering most from the effects of CTE may not be capable of giving the informed consent necessary to taker part in such a study. They may even have died, especially given the higher levels of suicide involved. Some CTE suffers may have chosen not to take part, either because of their impaired decision making not fully comprehending the risk or through simple fear of finding out or letting other people know that their failing memory or whatever is early signs of dementia and/or CTE. And that’s before considering that they may just have randomly picked the healthy ones – even if you consider it a coin flip, the chance of getting 21 random coin flips the same in a row, while small, is exponentially higher with a pool of 21 then the 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 or whatever that studies that form more widely applicable conclusions aim for.

    Point is, science is hard, and one small scale study should be convincing you either way.

  4. Uh-huh. I see. Then again, there are also “scientists” out there that refute global warming and for many years there were “doctors” that assured us smoking was a perfectly healthy little hobby.

    Follow the money… because you know there’s a pile of it attached to this somewhere.

  5. this is far too important a matter to even attempt to lend an outlying exception anything like the weight of the thoroughly researched and repeatedly proven rule amply supported by a preponderance of the medical community on the subject;

    the fact remains that football equipment technology has for more than fifty years lagged criminally behind biological technology of player development, specifically where the helmet is concerned;

    until helmet and equipment technology is brought to a par with player development (meaning the multi-billion NFL is willing to devote a substantial portion of its annual profits), CTE will run rampant and unchecked among football players of all ages as the Four Horsemen once did;

  6. The Almighty Cabbage says:
    August 9, 2018 at 6:00 am
    Uh-huh. I see. Then again, there are also “scientists” out there that refute global warming and for many years there were “doctors” that assured us smoking was a perfectly healthy little hobby.
    ———————-
    Get up to date. It’s climate change, not global warming.
    In 70’s it was global cooling causing the problems.
    In the 80’s and 90’s it was global warming causes the problems.
    Now it’s climate change.

  7. But what they don’t tell you is they found those 21 brains in the crevices of old helmets…

  8. “And that’s before considering that they may just have randomly picked the healthy ones – even if you consider it a coin flip, the chance of getting 21 random coin flips the same in a row, while small, is exponentially higher with a pool of 21 then the 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 or whatever that studies that form more widely applicable conclusions aim for.”

    Our current understanding of CTE is largely confined to anecdotal evidence and studies with brains, right? What studies have had access to 1,000 brains? I’d love to see just one reference, but I don’t think it exists. Brains are hard to come by… let alone brains from retired football players. I think this is the right approach – working with living athletes to assay cognitive function. You’re of course right that the next step is to increase the sample size…

    By the way, there are very important confounding variables that will be difficult to control in all of these studies. Steroid consumption comes to mind…

  9. dreemeagle says:
    August 9, 2018 at 6:06 am
    CTE will run rampant and unchecked among football players… as the Four Horsemen once did
    ——————————
    Wait, what? When was the apocalypse!!?? How did the rest of us all miss the end of the World?

  10. dreemeagle says:
    August 9, 2018 at 6:06 am
    this is far too important a matter to even attempt to lend an outlying exception anything like the weight of the thoroughly researched and repeatedly proven rule amply supported by a preponderance of the medical community on the subject;

    the fact remains that football equipment technology has for more than fifty years lagged criminally behind biological technology of player development, specifically where the helmet is concerned;

    until helmet and equipment technology is brought to a par with player development (meaning the multi-billion NFL is willing to devote a substantial portion of its annual profits), CTE will run rampant and unchecked among football players of all ages as the Four Horsemen once did;

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Agreed. What most people fail to realize is that helmets are/were designed to protect the skull, not the brain. I believe helmets could be designed in a manner that would disperse the collision energy across a larger area of the helmet’s surface, reducing the rapid linear deceleration that causes these brain injuries.

  11. 21 total people? How can they publish their findings on such a small sample size? Heck they don’t even list names/positions of the people in the study,

    Obviously a runningback or a safety have higher chances than a kicker or a punter. Hard to call this study credible when they don’t include that information

  12. More amazing news out of Buffalow.

    “Bills team president Kim Pegula is excited about the progress of both her football and hockey teams.”

    All you have to do to be happy is aim low, real low.

  13. tb12greatest says:
    August 9, 2018 at 6:41 am
    That’s cause the Bills don’t tackle…
    ___________________________________
    They have put TB12 into the turf a couple hundred times.

  14. Further proof that Goodell was stunningly incompetent in agreeing to a massive, endless handout to the lawyers of former players. And that incredible act of league sabotage in turn has led driectly to further blunders like the tackle rule, eliminating kickoffs, PSLs etc. in a vain effort to slow the cash flow out of the league He is like a human Rube Goldberg machine powered by stupidity.

  15. Was this a randomized controlled study (RCT)? As someone with a doctorate degree, we won’t have the best answers until we have meta-analyses completed (a collection of randomized control studies). Those results will be able to determine if there statistically significant differences between test and control group.

  16. What the article doesn’t mention is that scientists Rex and Rob Ryan did all the clinical work in the study.

  17. EJ says:
    August 9, 2018 at 7:54 am
    tb12greatest says:
    August 9, 2018 at 6:41 am
    That’s cause the Bills don’t tackle…
    ___________________________________
    They have put TB12 into the turf a couple hundred times.

    ——————

    Doubtful. But here is a fact for you:

    Brady is 28-3 vs. the Buffalo bills with 68-TDs and 21-Ints

    That is about as one-sided as it gets.

  18. I know and work with a lot of people who are perfectly content breathing industrial solvent vapors and soaking their skin in solvents regularly at work. These people don’t have cancer or failed organs, so that proves solvents are safe to breathe and to be used as bath water, right? I mean, I studied 21 people who were all still alive. So that is proof, right?

  19. This is encouraging. What has bothered me about CTE is the attack on football, all the while mixed martial arts is one of the quickest growing sports. Also, sports like soccer have high rates of concussions. I feel like they also dont consider lifestyle outside of football. Football isn’t the only way to get your head smacked around. Maybe you got in fights and got concussions. Maybe you got in a bad car accident. Every head injury is different. I think of guys like Aaron Hernandez who apparently had advanced CTE…but if he was involved with gangs, do you think football was the only place he was getting his head knocked around? Probably not.

  20. Kolo Jezdec says:
    August 9, 2018 at 5:35 am
    “Our noncontact sport control group turned out to be better educated…”

    That statements says a lot.

    —————–

    Not really. You figure the non-contact sports that they selected are sports that no one cares about outside of the Olympics and what not, so with a handful of exceptions these weren’t professional athletes like NFL and NHL players are. They had to be better educated to increase their lifetime earnings while NFL and NHL players are encouraged to get into the professional ranks as early as possible to maximize their earnings. It’s just a difference in incentives.

  21. joetoronto says:
    August 9, 2018 at 7:37 am
    More amazing news out of Buffalow.

    “Bills team president Kim Pegula is excited about the progress of both her football and hockey teams.”

    All you have to do to be happy is aim low, real low.

    ————————————

    More amazing news out of Oakland, I mean LA, er Oakland, no Vegas, Sandusky, Ohio? NM what a disaster.

  22. I don’t know whether CTE is indeed a crisis for football players or not- the evidence is not conclusive in either direction, no matter what either side is trying to convince you of.

    I do know that a lot of people who are convinced CTE is an epidemic do so because they hear anecdotal stories of players they have heard of who got it. The fact is that at any one time hundreds of thousands of people are playing football in this country, if you included pee wee, high school, college and the NFL. If you add it up over 50 years, that number would be in the millions.

    If we go on the low end, for comparative purposes, let’s put it at an even million, although I am sure the number is much higher. If 10% of players got CTE from football, that would mean there are 100,000 cases of CTE out there. Is there? And even if there were, that would mean 900,000 people or 90% don’t have CTE after playing football.

    I am sure people will question my numbers, which would be missing the point. The point is that the verdict is far from in on this question, and automatically dismissing research that doesn’t give the popular opinion is foolhardy.

  23. It’s because the Sabres and the Bills never make the playoffs and experience much less physical trauma than their counterparts for other teams by not playing in those extra games.

  24. This testing was not done right. 21 people is not a true testing. Besides any Bills and Sabres fan know this was not and is not true. Darryl Talley who had a GoFundMe campaign to help with his medical costs has CTE. Thurman Thomas has CTE. There are a bunch more EX-Bills suffering with CTE. Rene Robert suffers from it. There are more Ex-Sabres who have it as well. Who did they test? Why no names published? I say this was a self aggrandizing article told for UB.

  25. scientific method- a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested. In real science it is not only ok to question a hypothesis, it is part of the process. When someone objects to the hypothesis being questioned and tested, that is an agenda not science. When someone cries out that “It is to important to question or study further” or assigns a “denier” title to the non-believers, that is not science.

  26. 21 people would be okay if you were doing an undergrad thesis. As in, hard to find athletes, you’re learning how to learn etc. Wouldn’t hold water for a PHD.

    As far as ‘real’ research, no way. None.

  27. EJ says:
    August 9, 2018 at 7:54 am
    tb12greatest says:
    August 9, 2018 at 6:41 am
    That’s cause the Bills don’t tackle…
    ___________________________________
    They have put TB12 into the turf a couple hundred times.

    And nary an RTP flag seen anywhere. Look it up if you disagree.

    But there’s this guy who was buying brains,

    He offered $100 for an aastronaut’s brains
    $500 for a Nobel Prize winners brain and $1,000,000. for a (insert most hated team/player/fan base) brain. when asked why the (insert) brain was so high he answered,

    It’s unused.

  28. UB is a top notch medical research facility. One of the best in the country. I’m quite sure the players positions and all the other information is included in the study. This is an article about the findings. Regardless I think CTE is becoming an all encompassing diagnosis. Every kid has ADHD now too. Dementia in many forms is extremely common. It also affects more uneducated people than those educated. There are so many different dna traits and predispositions that the CTE diagnosis is really out of control. I believe that’s what the study was trying to prove. You start with small groups on a theory. Then expand. But finding a person w no predisposition, family history, heart issues, drug or alcohol use/abuse, healthy lifestyle from a former player is prob extremely low. I think that’s the good side of the study. If those subjects were “clean” in most of those aspects then that legitmatizes the study. Also UB has its own funding. I just don’t fully buy into the CTE is so common in and of itself

  29. only browns and Bills fans could be so confused;

    it’s the Four Horsemen of NOTRE DAME, you losers!

    obviously there is not a large component of English Composition in Buffalo and cleveland required for anything beyond a grade school education there since no one seems to have heard of Grantland Rice;

    i won’t even try for Knute Rockne…

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