The link between football and traumatic brain injury continues to strengthen. Now, one of the largest studies on the subject to date finds that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder associated with repetitive head trauma.
Several studies have linked CTE to suicidal behavior, dementia and declines in memory, executive function and mood. Professional athletes may be at higher risk for CTE because of their high likelihood for concussions and other traumatic brain injuries; u p to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year. In 2016, a health official with the NFL acknowledged the link between football and CTE for the first time.
In the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the brains of 202 deceased people who had played football at various levels, from high school to the NFL. (The brains had been donated to a brain bank at Boston University for further study.) The researchers analyzed the brains for signs of CTE and also spoke to family members about the players’ histories.
They diagnosed CTE in 87% of the players. Among the 111 NFL players, 99% had CTE.