Ninety-one former NFL players donated their brains to science, so the world could learn more about the effects of head injuries on athletes; of the 91 athletes, 87 of these players have tested positive for brain disease.

 

X-rays of brains

X-Rays show the patterns in brain disease among former NFL players. (Business Insider)

The disease found in these former athletes has been identified as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) by the researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University. CTE can lead to depression and dementia, which are illnesses that many athletes have faced at some point in their life. These researchers have stated that there is likely a link between the frequent head injuries that many football players receive and the high number of former athletes suffering from CTE. Despite the high rate of CTE found during the study, many don’t believe this is a serious problem.            

 

“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it,” said Ann McKee, the chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System. “My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.”

 

In 2014, the NFL admitted that they believe about a third of their retired athletes will develop cognitive problems that could affect them for the rest of their lives. They also stated that these brain conditions are becoming more prevalent at younger ages among NFL players. Since the organization admitted that this is a very serious issue, they have taken steps to reduce the frequency of head injuries.  

 

“We are dedicated to making football safer and continue to take steps to protect players, including rule changes, advanced sideline technology, and expanded medical resources. We continue to make significant investments in independent research through our gifts to Boston University,” said an NFL spokesman.

 

How effective are the safety measures that the NFL has taken to protect their players? In 2015, the NFL stated that they saw a 35 percent drop in concussions over the past two seasons, but there were still 112 total concussions among players. The 2015 to 2016 season may see a bigger drop in concussions now the the NFL has implemented rules that help prevent excessive injuries. There will now be medical timeouts that stop the game if a player looks disoriented or injured, and the athlete will then be taken off the field to receive medical attention.       

 

The NFL may be making changes, but McKee believes that many of those with a “vested interest” in football are resistant to the idea that CTE is a real disease. McKee has stated that there are less people who think CTE is just a sign of aging rather than a disease, but this mentality is “still one of our major hurdles.”   

 

How can the NFL further help reduce head injuries during games? Will there be significant changes by next season? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.