A scientist has found a troubling link between the brains of over one hundred deceased NFL athletes.
Dr Ann McKee has examined the brains of 111 NFL players and 110 were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head.
The neuropathologist published her findings recently in The Journal of the American Medical Association, after examining a total of 202 brains belonging to deceased american footballers.
The brains belonged to a cross-section of former American footballers, from professionals such as quarterback Ken Stabler (pictured above) to those of the Canadian Football League, semi-professional players, college players and high school players.
The brains examined were from players who died as young as 23 and as old as 89, and covered every single position on the field; seven quarterbacks, 20 running backs, 17 defensive backs, and 44 lineman, as well as five wide receivers, two tight ends and even one place-kicker and one punter.
Of the brains studied, 87 percent were found to have CTE, a degenerative disease that causes myriad symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia. The problems can arise years after the blows to the head have stopped.
The study found that the high school players had mild cases, while college and professional players showed more severe effects of CTE. But even those with mild cases exhibited cognitive, mood and behavioural symptoms, reports The New York Times.
Defensive Back, Tyler Sash was just 27 when he accidentally took a fatal overdose of painkillers on September 8 2015. The New York Giants released him in 2013 after two years on the field, because he’d suffered his fifth known concussion.
The Sash family requested that his brain be examined for CTE because he was showing uncharacteristic signs of confusion, memory loss and fits of anger, and their suspicions arose before his untimely death.
Dr McKee confirmed:
Even though he was only 27, he played 16 years of football, and we’re finding over and over that it’s the duration of exposure to football that gives you a high risk for CTE. Certainly, 16 years is a high exposure.
Like the other athletes who suffered CTE, Sash’s brain showed a build up of the protein, Tau, believed to be caused by the accumulation of many non-violent knocks to the head, as stated by the father of CTE, Dr Bennet Omalu.
You can watch Dr Omalu, played by Will Smith, explain CTE in the Concussion clip below:
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Dr Omalu’s work determined that CTE damages the parts of the brain responsible for cognition, working memory, planning and abstract reasoning, emotion, social perception and self-awareness, and can result in aggression and anxiety.
This latest study from Dr McKee – while it does show severe selection bias in the brains studied – does suggest how we can protect our athletes from health problems later in life, as well as youngsters embarking on playing contact sports.