Study highlights risks of CTE for football players

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Anyone who wants to play football knows they’re going to take a lot of hard knocks on the field, but research increasingly shows head trauma stays with players for the rest of their lives.

An updated study from the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the link between football players and the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. 

The study looked at the brains of deceased football players, 111 of whom had played in the NFL. Of those former 111 NFL players, 110 had CTE. 

Dr. Ann McKee, the study’s principal author, cautioned the results may be skewed because all of the brains were donated. 

“Families don’t donate brains of their loved ones unless they’re concerned about the person. So all the players in this study, on some level, were symptomatic,” McKee said.

Nonetheless, the results were striking. 

“We’re seeing [CTE] in a very large number that participated in football for many years,” McKee continued. “So while we don’t know the exact risk and we don’t know the exact number, we know this is a problem in football.”

With another football season poised to begin, it’s important to remember the risks players undertake each time the ball is snapped. 

In recent years, the NFL has taken proactive steps to reform their concussion protocol. It has banned certain types of head-first tackles, introduced the “medical timeout,” and added more medical professionals on the sidelines. 

In turn, the NFL reported an 11.3 percent decrease in the number of concussions suffered by players from 2015 to 2016.

However, there is still concern that players are faking their results on concussion diagnostic tests in order to get back on the field more quickly. 

Football players are taught from a young age to “tough it out” and fight through any pain they experience. After all, being sidelined can end their career.

To make things harder, there’s no objective way to test for a concussion on-site. Many of the diagnostic questions require players to report the severity of their own symptoms. Players can say they’re feeling fine when they’re really not.

But refusing to get the proper care has long-term consequences. According to court documents, the NFL expects nearly one-third of all retired players to develop a cognitive disorder in their lifetime.

With the average NFL career lasting only 3.3 years, it’s worth considering: is the glory worth the risk?

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