Report: TBI in former NFL players more prevalent than previously thought

NFL players collide during a game
Report: Professional Football Players Experience High Rate of TBI

According to a new study, conducted by Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, evidence of traumatic brain injuries exist in nearly every former NFL player.

The study examined the brains of 165 former football players for the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition “widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia,” according to PBS Frontline.

Officially, CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously, although a team of UCLA scientists recently disputed this assertion.

Of the 91 former NFL players examined, 87 confirmed positive for CTE. Overall the researchers found evidence of CTE in 131 of the 165 athletes.

“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it,” Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, the recipient of a $1 million grant from the NFL to conduct concussion-related research, told Frontline. “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 April, the NFL reached an approximately $1 billion settlement with 5,000 former NFL players, who argued the NFL hid the risk of concussions. However, some players have opted out of the settlement and are continuing to pursue lawsuits.

Despite the UCLA study, the settlement specifically excludes players diagnosed with CTE, according to Time Magazine. However, it does include a provision requiring the league and players’ attorneys to sit down in good faith every 10 years to reevaluate the science as to whether CTE can be examined while players are still living.

For years, the NFL denied any link between football and concussions. Most famously, the NFL’s disbanded Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee contended that “no NFL players” had experienced TBI as a result of repeated concussions and that “professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis,” according to Frontline.

The report comes less than two months after the NFL released its annual Health and Safety Report [PDF], which reported that the number of concussions in regular season games has fallen 35 percent during the past two seasons. The NFL credited new in-game protocols, new pregame and post-game assessments, and new penalties for certain types of hits, among other factors.

“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,” a spokesman for the NFL said in a statement, according to Frontline. “We continue to make significant investments in independent research through our gifts to Boston University, the [National Institutes of Health] and other efforts to accelerate the science and understanding of these issues.”