Just how big of a threat is the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to NFL players? Well, a major study conducted by researchers at Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System just revealed that 99 percent of the brains donated by families of deceased NFL players tested positive for CTE.
According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association today, 110 of 111 donated brains of late NFL players tested positive for CTE. In total, 87 percent of 202 deceased football players from all levels, including high school, college, semi-pro, the Canadian Football League and NFL, were diagnosed with CTE.
“It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football — there is a problem,” said Ann McKee, the director of Boston University's CTE Center, in a statement, as reported by Huffington Post. "It is time to come together to find solutions.”
She added, as reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “To me, it’s very concerning that we have college-level players who have severe CTE who did not go on to play professionally. That means they most likely retired before the age of 25 and we still are seeing in some of those individuals very severe repercussions.”
The players whose brains were donated and researched for this study played an average of 15 years of football with 66 being the average age for their death. This extensive study leaves no doubt in McKee's mind that there's a direct link to CTE and football.
“Obviously, this doesn’t represent the prevalence in the general population, but the fact that we’ve been able to gather this high a number of cases in such a short period of time says that this disease is not uncommon,” McKee said, as reported by the AJC. “In fact, I think it’s much more common than we currently realize. And more importantly, this is a problem in football that we need to address and we need to address now in order to bring some hope and optimism to football players.”
Last year, the Supreme Court upheld a decision for the NFL to pay nearly $1 billion in concussion and brain trauma payouts to roughly 4,500 retired players. Clearly, though, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league must do more to spark further research and take additional precautions to protect its players.
Aaron Hernandez's brain was donated to Boston University's world-renowned CTE unit shortly after the former NFL star committed suicide via hanging himself in prison this past April. It remains to be seen whether Hernandez, who was incarcerated after being found guilty two years ago in the 2013 first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd, was suffering from CTE. The disease can only be detected in brains posthumously.
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