Magazine article Risk Management

Brain Trust: A Medical Study Confirms What Too Many Have Feared-The Sport of Football Can Cause Brain Trauma. What Can the NFL Do?

Magazine article Risk Management

Brain Trust: A Medical Study Confirms What Too Many Have Feared-The Sport of Football Can Cause Brain Trauma. What Can the NFL Do?

Article excerpt

Andre Waters, a former NFL defensive back, committed suicide three days before Thanksgiving in 2007. Terry Long, a former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman, took his life in 2006 by drinking antifreeze. Tom McHale, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer who was in and out of rehab after his NFL career ended, died last year from an overdose of oxycodone and cocaine.

These men all had something in common other than football--they all suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of traumatic brain injury. In Waters' case, an autopsy revealed brain tissue that would be expected in an 85-year-old, along with characteristics of early-stage Alzheimer's disease, both of which are symptoms of CTE. He was 44.

These are just three examples. There are many more stories of ex-NFL players who have suffered through retirement due to the side effects of receiving so many blows to the head during their gridiron heyday. According to a recent University of Michigan study, a staggering 6.1% of NFL retirees aged 50 and older reported being diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer's or other memory-related problems, compared to 1.2% of all American men in that age group. This eye-opening report has reignited the debate about how football can better protect its players from incurring brain trauma--a fate that is increasingly being viewed as a common byproduct of playing such a brutal sport.

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Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the University of North Carolina's Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, has been studying the effects of head trauma on professional football players since 2001, and his findings suggest that there is a strong association between recurrent concussions and diagnoses of depression. Guskiewicz's 2007 study found that, compared to retired players without a history of concussion, retired players reporting three or more concussions (24% of the players studied) were three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression. "The findings emphasize the importance of understanding the potential chronic neurological consequences of recurrent concussion," he said.

But CTE is not only prevalent in retired NFL players. A disturbing announcement made recently by Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy stated that the disease had been found in a former college athlete who never stepped foot on the grass as a professional player. …

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