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Researchers Find CTE Brain Injury in 92% of NFL Players’ Brains Studied

A doctor examines a brain scan showing trauma

Boston University researchers have discovered the degenerative brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 345 of 376 former NFL players they have studied.

According to news reports, researchers at BU’s CT Center have been sounding the alarm about this disease for many years.

This discovery is significant because it is troubling for the future of professional football, and the 91.7% occurrence rate for football players draws a stark contrast with CTE rates in the general population, which is “extremely low.”

CTE can be diagnosed only after death. However, as the disease is garnering more attention, a number of football players have agreed to donate their brains to further study this area of neurology.

Researchers believe repetitive impacts to the head are the primary cause of CTE. They were also quick to point out that even though 9 out of 10 players studied were found to have CTE, it does not mean that 90% of former NFL players have the disease.

What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE?

CTE is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated hits to the head. Over time, these hits result in the accumulation of tau protein around the brain, which could lead to confusion, depression, and dementia.

CTE was originally associated with boxing before former NFL players began revealing their conditions. So far, more than 1,800 former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for CTE research. Some of the common symptoms of CTE include:

  • Short-term memory loss.
  • Confusion, such as not knowing what time it is or where you are.
  • Difficulties with organization and planning.
  • Problems with movement and mobility.

Tragic Outcomes for NFL Players

CTE has received significant attention because of the tragic outcomes for those afflicted, including suicide. However, researchers believe the lesson here is that symptoms relating to CTE or other types of brain injury can be treated with prompt medical attention and care.

Former NFL players diagnosed with CTE just in the last year include Rick Arrington, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Kansas Chiefs defensive tackle Ed Lothamer, and Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, whose family said he showed signs of erratic behavior and paranoia in the years leading up to his death.

Thomas died on Dec. 9, 2022, at his home, due to complications from seizures, less than six months after he retired from the NFL at age 33. The league has continued to modify its concussion protocols this season after it was criticized for the handling of several head injuries to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Some CTE cases have had deadly consequences not just for the afflicted ball players, but also for others. In 2021, NFL player 32-year-old Phillip Adams killed six people before killing himself. He was later diagnosed with stage 2 CTE.

According to an NBC news report, Adams had suffered multiple injuries during his six-year NFL career, and his father, Alonzo Adams, told media after the shooting: “I think the football messed him up.”

Researchers likened Adams’ brain disease to that of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star who was convicted of murder before killing himself in prison. He was found to have had stage 3 CTE. Former NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson who was also found to have stage 2 CTE, was discovered dead in a hotel room in 2021. His family also suspected CTE, which was later confirmed by researchers, because he had sustained multiple concussions during a 12-year NFL career.

Need for an Awareness Campaign

While it may seem shocking he was never officially diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, experts say that is common because about 20% of people suffering from brain disease have never been diagnosed with a concussion. Many researchers now also believe that sub-concussive hits play a major part in CTE. This means seemingly harmless contact throughout a football game or even during practice could contribute to CTE.

Doctors and researchers at BU say the NFL needs to overhaul its awareness campaign to focus on repetitive head injuries that may not rise to the level of a concussion because those could be contributing to CTE later.

The NFL launched a $100 million research pledge in 2016, the same year the league agreed to a $1 billion concussion settlement with former players and their families. Both the NFL and NCAA had reduced full-contact practice reps for players to minimize the risk of CTE. It wasn’t until 2016 that NFL even acknowledged the link between football and CTE.

If You Have Suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury

If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury because of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, you may be able to seek compensation for the injuries, damages, and losses you have sustained.

Compensation may be available for damages such as medical expenses, lost income, hospitalization, cost of rehabilitative treatment, permanent injuries, disabilities, loss of earning capacity, and past and future pain and suffering. An experienced brain injury lawyer in California will be able to advise you regarding your legal rights and options.

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