The growing consensus on long-term neurological damage produced by football found new support on Tuesday. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found brain injuries in 110 of 111 brains donated by ex- NFL players. Although the conclusions cannot be extrapolated to all those who play football, this is the largest sample studied to date.
The condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative condition related to head trauma, particularly concussions. Because of its prevalence among boxers, the condition was known as “punch drunk” for years. The discussion about its direct relationship with the practice of football began a little more than a decade ago after a study focused on past players with psychological difficulties after retirement. The consequences can appear years after a player retires.
In all, the study examined 202 brains of deceased people who played in some category of American football, from high school to the NFL, after the 1960s. CTE is present in 87% of them, or 177. Once a player reaches the professional level, the proportion exceeds 99%.
The new study published Tuesday was conducted by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Veterans’ Hospital. This is the largest sample studied to date. The brains studied are deposited in a brain bank in Boston that was created in 2008 in order to study the issue.
The brains studied are from people who donated them to science, precisely because they suspected that something was wrong, which makes the sample biased. In addition, the disease can only be safely certified in a postmortem examination. As a result, it is possible that the entire sample of football players has a somewhat lower incidence of CTE than the study suggests.
The report’s conclusion is limited to saying that “in a sample of deceased football players who donated their brains for research, a high proportion had neuropathological evidence of CTE, suggesting that CTE may be related to participation in the football”.