Sports are central to American culture; they teach kids the concepts of hard work, perseverance, and teamwork. Each sport has its own risks for specific injuries, but football is particularly dangerous because it can cause extensive damage to the brain.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 110 out of 111 brains of deceased National Football League players showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These findings were similarly reflected across high school and college football players where they found evidence of CTE in 177 out of 202 brains.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma to the head like concussions. The symptoms of CTE generally don’t appear until 8-10 years after the repetitive traumatic brain injury. Typical symptoms of CTE include memory loss, social instability, erratic behavior, and poor judgement. On the more severe end of the spectrum, CTE can lead to dementia, movement disorders, hypomimia, speech impediments, tremors, vertigo, deafness and suicidality.
With such a high number of NFL players suffering from CTE, we have to wonder – perhaps even hope – whether this new research will impact America’s favorite pastime, but as history as shown, it could take a significant movement in order to significantly affect change. For example, in 1984 the American Medical Association (AMA) called for the abolition of both amateur and professional boxing due to the dangerous impact that boxing had on the health of its athletes. However, the AMA was unsuccessful in their lobbying to politicians and eventually their movement was abandoned.
In light of this new research, it is imperative that we proactively take steps to reduce the irreparable brain damage that is caused in athletes in football and a variety of other high-contact sports where CTE is evident (including rugby, ice hockey, and wrestling). While it will be challenging to affect significant change to the rules of these sports while still appeasing a nation of high-contact sports enthusiasts, implementing safeguards and monitoring cognitive function of our athletes are necessary in order to end this damaging cycle of brain injury.