Chronic brain disease still a major risk for football players

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In light of this past Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, issues surrounding the disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) in professional football players still remains a subject of heavy debate.

C.T.E. is a progressive degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma. The major symptoms are mood changes, headaches and memory problems. It can only be diagnosed after death by exposing a slice of the brain tissue to a chemical that will reveal Tau clumps, which are created by a change in the Tau protein of a brain.

A Journal of American Medical Association study examined the brain of deceased NFL football players. Of the 111 brains studied, 110 had C.T.E. In another study, it was found that the highest percentage of players with this degenerative brain disease were in the NFL.

Ann McKee, who ran this study, cautions that there is the possibility for a skewed population since all of brains were donated, and most families would not donate their loved ones’ brains if they did not believe that there was a problem.

Still, it is clear that many players are impacted from this disease.

However, NFL and football fans are more interested in the game than they are in the safety of the players. This causes parents to put their children on teams starting at a young age. C.T.E. does not discriminate based on age. As soon as a person has repeated brain trauma, they are at risk. If the children continue to play football through high school, college and then into professional leagues, they are at even greater risk.

McKee believes that there needs to be a study that follows children playing football starting at a young age and throughout their lives. In order to really make a difference, they need to see when the problem arises. This would mean following people through their playing careers and taking measurements to see when something goes wrong.

The issues with a study like this is that it needs significant funding. There is a lack of discussion and desire to learn more about C.T.E.’s connection with football injuries. If the fix to this problem would be to change football, the NFL would lose a lot of money. While the NFL provided some funding for McKee’s study, she predicts this funding will stop since the results are considered too damaging.

The NFL has worked to cover up C.T.E. and deny its relation to their football players. Still, in light of research, they have instated new rules to help prevent concussions.

While these safety steps are beneficial, they do not solve the problem.