JamaNetwork – 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%).
So you might have seen this startling, extremely disconcerting news come out yesterday. Some scientists did a study where they tested 202 brains taken from deceased former football players, across all levels of play. Out of those 202, 177 were diagnosed as having chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The study defines CTE as “progressive neurodegeneration associated with repetitive head trauma” and I like that definition because even for science-stupid people like me it’s easy to digest. Basically if you get hit in the head over and over again your brain and neurological functions are apt to, well, degenerate. Fall apart, in other words.
A lot of people are putting a ton of emphasis on the NFL aspect, which is even more eye opening. Out of 111 brains tested from former NFL players, 110 were diagnosed with CTE. 110/111. 99%. If you ever watched an NFL game, there were a total of 106 players you could have possibly seen play. Think about that long and hard. Just mind blowing stuff.
Honestly though? I’m a little more concerned with the still extremely high rate (about 74% if I’m doing my math right) of CTE found in non-pro players. Men who went on to other careers and lives that just got the short end of the stick and probably had no idea what was going on with them. Imagine not even considering your high school glory days when you’re wondering why you can’t remember what you had for breakfast or why you got so mad at the dog?
Maybe the worse part of all this is you really can’t test for CTE in a living person. It has to be looked for in a brain, extracted from a dead person. You can’t know until it is way too late to do anything about it. I also think about the other misunderstandings regarding CTE, one in particular. Look again at the definition. See that word “repetitive”. A lot of people think CTE comes from taking a handful of huge shots, and that certainly does not help, at all. I’m sure we all saw that image of Luke Kuechly crying on the back of that stretcher and thought “fuck that can’t be good”. In reality, it doesn’t take a big pop. The term “punch drunk” comes from boxers with what is now known as CTE who maybe or maybe not got knocked out a ton but got jabbed and countered and hit even with pillow-fisted crosses over and over again, fight after fight. And those shots added up. Remember Muhammed Ali’s arm shaking as he lit the torch at the 96′ Olympic games in Atlanta? I do.
Put all this together and I really start to reflect. I played hockey from 5 to about 15, I played rugby in college, and now I kickbox ,very subparly. I have friends who followed similar recreational paths. I know Dougie played Lacrosse and now does BJJ, a sport from which a headbutt-induced concussion plagues former UFC Lightweight #1 Contender T.J Grant to this day. 4 years later. So what do we do? Do we stop participating in any of these activities? Do we not teach them to our kids? If not what the fuck do we teach our kids? I have no idea. I just know 110/111 or 177/202 aren’t good odds.