Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disease linked to contact sports and brain trauma. For several years, the focus has been on professional football players, with a back-and-forth, does-it-or-doesn’t-it approach to whether or not playing in the NFL will increase a person’s chance of developing the disease.
Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System have finally laid that question to rest. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “In a convenience sample of 202 deceased players of American football from a brain donation program, CTE was neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87%), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99%)” (emphasis ours).
In the interest of full transparency, researcher Dr. Ann McKee admits that there is “selection bias” in the samples used, because “many families [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][of former NFL players] have donated brains specifically because the former player showed symptoms of C.T.E,” per the New York Times. Still, based on the number of players who have died since the BU researchers started studying CTE (1300), even if only these 110 players were diagnosed with the condition, “the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly higher than in the general population.”
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Looking at the numbers
There were 202 brains, and the median age* of the deceased player was about 66 years old. The average amount of years played was between 13 (for mild CTE) and 16 (for severe CTE).
What the study found was players who were diagnosed with mild CTW pathology were considerably younger (media age 44) than those diagnosed with severe CTE pathology (median age 71). Suicide was the leading cause of death for those with mild pathology; neurodegenerative conditions, like dementia and Parkinson’s, was the leading cause of death for those with severe pathology.
The study also divided the groups into levels of play:
- 111 played in the NFL / 110 diagnosed
- 8 played in the Canadian Football League – 7 diagnosed
- 14 played semi-professionally / 9 diagnosed
- 53 played in college / 48 diagnosed
- 14 played in high school / 3 diagnosed
- 2 played pre-high school / 0 diagnosed
The good news is that the numbers are significantly lower for players at the high school (and, obviously, pre-high school) level. The bad news is that the diagnoses exists for three players who only played up through high school. And while the sample size for those players is small, just over 20% of the donated brains of high-school players showed signs of CTE.
Twenty percent. A fifth of the brains. Just from playing in high school.
This latest study is important, but unsurprising; after all, we’ve been making this case for the last two years. As injury attorneys, we see first-hand how a permanent brain injury can turn a family’s world upside down. We know that CTE is progressive, which means it will get worse and worse for the victim. We know there is no cure: once you have the disease, it is with you until you die.
Choose the future. Choose your children. Choose life.
Crandall & Pera Law is a premier personal injury and medical malpractice law firm serving clients throughout Ohio and Kentucky. Please call our Ohio team at 877.686.8879, our Kentucky team at 877.651.7764, or fill out this contact form to learn more about our services.