The NFL’s brain injury crisis might not always make for compelling Will Smith movies, but it can still make for a pretty fascinating read. Take, for instance, this article, “111 NFL Brains,” which ran in The New York Times today, illustrating that, out of 111 brains taken from former NFL players, 110 were shown to have symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease linked to receiving repeated blows to the head.
Symptoms of C.T.E.—which can only be officially diagnosed after the patient has died—include memory loss, dementia, and lack of emotional control, and can often exhibit themselves years after the traumas originally took place. By all accounts, a great place to receive said traumas is pretty much anywhere on a pro football field; C.T.E. lesions were seen in the brains of almost all of the former players examined, regardless of position, from lineman all the way to punters.
The doctor running the study, Dr. Anna McKee—whose work was published this week in The Journal Of The American Medical Association—noted that there’s an obvious selection bias in which brains she’s allowed to examine for the disease, since such requests often come from family members who want answers after the patient’s death. Even so, the Times notes that, even if the other 1,200 NFL players who’ve died since the project started came up clean, that’d still mean 9 percent of players—a much higher percentage than the general population—developed C.T.E.
After years of denials, cover-ups, and “Come on, it’s football!”s, the NFL has finally started to work in recent years to combat the dangers of repeated head trauma (and the bad press they bring with them), upping requirements for protective equipment for players. The organization has also encouraged youth football organizations to play less violently, instituting less dangerous tackling styles and encouraging kids to play flag football instead.