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The dangerous link between football and traumatic brain injuries

| Apr 30, 2021 | Brain Injuries

Since its inception more than a century ago, football has become a quintessential American pastime. Children can enter the sport as young as five years old and many continue to play throughout high school and even into college. But as research unfolds linking football to traumatic brain injuries, the once iconic sport is facing criticism for bodily harm to players.

Discovery of CTE

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disorder associated with repeated hits to the head. With CTE, a protein spreads throughout the brain, killing brain cells as it forms protein clumps. As the protein increases and the disease progresses, it causes mental impairment and behavioral problems. Those suffering from CTE can lose memory function and suffer from confusion. The behavioral side effects include extreme mood swings, suicidal behavior and aggression.

Football and CTE

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed findings after studying deceased football players’ brains. The study looked at the brains of 202 former players who had played at varying levels. The study found that 87% of the brains had CTE, but the findings increased to 99% for National Football League (NFL) players. The findings are significantly higher than previous estimates and directly link football to traumatic brain injury.

CTE and the NFL

Statistics show that more than 3.8 million concussions related to sports industries happen annually. Professional athletes are more at risk for CTE because of their higher probability for concussions and other head trauma. In 2016, the NFL finally acknowledged the link between football and CTE after denying its existence for more than a decade.

After acknowledging the link between football and CTE, the NFL made safety changes to address the ongoing problem of player safety. Concussed players are supposed to be removed from the game. If teams fail to do this, they face an initial fine of $150,000 and subsequent violation fines of $100,000 or higher. The NFL is also reviewing the surface on which the games take place, as players have complained that synthetic turf is too hard.

While the study of CTE is still in its infancy, the relationship between football and this degenerative brain disease should not be ignored.