CTE study reveals NFL’s worst nightmare

A study conducted of 202 former football players found evidence of brain disease in nearly all of them.

The brain disease CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has been on the National Football League’s overflowing plate of PR issues since the suicide of former player and Hall of Fame member Junior Seau. Football purists have held on to the notion that “its as dangerous as any other sport” for far too long, with the NFL settling on a $1 billion settlement for the brain injuries of the former player just last year after a long legal battle. At this point, the connection between brain damage and football is all but an incontrovertible fact.

But Dr. Anne McKee, lead author of the study, says we still don’t have all the answers.

“There are many questions that remain unanswered,” said Dr. McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. That includes, “how common is this” in the general population and all football players?

“How many years of football is too many?” and “What is the genetic risk? Some players do not have evidence of this disease despite long playing years,” she noted.

Previous research on CTE bears out the connection with football, but this study paints the two things as almost inseparable. CTE was diagnosed in 177 former players — or nearly 90 percent of brains studied. That includes 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players, seven of eight Canadian Football league players and three of 14 high school players. The disease was not found in brains from two younger players.

Most difficult for fans have been the sentiments echoed by recently retired players, who young fans had the pleasure of growing up with, when they talk about the difficulty of their lives after the game.

“A lot of families are really tragically affected by it — not even mentioning what these men are going through and they’re really not sure what is happening to them. It’s like a storm that you can’t quite get out of,” said the wife of former tight end Frank Wainwright.

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