New Research Published on Football and Brain Disease

CTE Ollie Matson Courtesy NYTimes


Written by Matt Bernstein:

The ongoing relationship between the NFL and concussion safety took another important step on Tuesday when a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association strongly linked playing in the NFL with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that is found in individuals who suffer repeated blows to the head. The study examined the brains of 202 former football players from varying levels of experience from High School to the NFL. The researchers found CTE present in:

“3 of 14 high school (21%), 48 of 53 college (91%), 9 of 14 semiprofessional (64%), 7 of 8 Canadian Football League (88%), and 110 of 111 National Football League (99%) players.”

The study’s senior author, Dr. Ann McKee, has published extensively on head trauma in relation to sports. After the article was released she was interviewed by NPR and commented that "this is by far the largest [study] of individuals who developed CTE that has ever been described.” She noted that this study was significant in that it was limited to football, previous studies have focused on CTE and a wide variety of sports. While this study is a significant step in understanding the relation between CTE and football, McKee acknowledged the limitations of the convenience sample: “All the brains studied were donated … all the players in this study, on some level, were symptomatic. That leaves you with a very skewed population.”

The research article was quickly picked up by news outlets and a variety of sports media sources. ESPN reported that John Urschel, an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, retired at age 26 in response to this study as well as other CTE research. In a statement provided to NPR the NFL shared that they are, “committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.”

This study adds to the growing outcry from the public for the NFL to toughen its stance on player safety, specifically with the treatment of head injuries. Head injuries among NFL players have been brought to the forefront most notably by the suicide of Junior Seau as well as the release of the film Concussion starring Will Smith.


Read the NY Times article analyzing the study

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Full article from the Journal of the American Medical Association

Check out Concussion starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin