“Football Players and CTE: Could the age old saying “I’d die for this game” actually be a sad reality?”
Football Players and CTE
Could the age old saying “I’d die for this game” actually be a sad reality?
Written by Blake Wooden
The ball sails through the air, twisting and spiraling towards the wide receiver. As it starts to descend, the player leaps, stretching his hands towards the heavens and the brown pigskin coming his way. All of a sudden, a blur enters his peripheral vision, a body the size and speed of a truck rams into his side, and the next thing he knows he is staring at the night sky, listening to the crowd’s chants of “oooohs” and “ahhhhs.” While hits like these may fill the stands and excite fans watching on television, research suggests that constant head traumas experienced by football players may put them at a higher risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE later in life.
Researchers set out to determine the link between playing American football at various levels of competitiveness and developing CTE, a progressive neurodegeneration associated with repetitive head trauma. To do so, they performed clinical and neuropathological evaluations of 202 brains donated to a brain bank dedicated to examining brain donors considered at risk of developing CTE. The researchers took slices of the brains and diagnosed post mortem CTE, assigning the positive cases to one of four stages, I-IV, based on the amount and location of lesions found in the brain. Stages I and II are considered to be mild cases of CTE, and stages III and IV are considered to be severe. Researchers also conducted double blind retrospective clinical evaluations through phone and online interviews with the next of kin of the deceased players to determine symptoms that patients displayed during life.
The study also found that the longer a patient had participated in American football, the higher his chance of having CTE. Of the 202 brains analyzed, 87% showed signs of CTE, with 101 of the 102 National Football League (NFL) players’ brains in the study showing signs. Of the 177 brains diagnosed with CTE, 44 of them were were stage I and II and 133 were stages III and IV. Of the mild cases, 85% saw a reduction in cognitive function during life, 33% had dementia, 96% showed a change in behavior or mood such as paranoia and anxiety, 67% abused drugs and alcohol, and 48% showed a reduction in motor functions such as instability and slowness. These rates were even higher in patients diagnosed with severe CTE with 95% having cognitive problems, 85% developing dementia, and 75% displaying motor skill issues. The exceptions were the abuse of substances (49% for severe CTE vs. 67% for mild CTE) and the change in mood or behavior (89% for severe CTE vs. 96% for mild CTE) which showed slightly lower levels in patients with severe CTE as compared to mild CTE, but still showed very high rates.
While this study establishes a correlation between CTE and playing football, it is not time to ban the sport from America. The convenience sample that the study relied on may over exaggerate the actual rate of CTE that exists in the population of American football players since the brains were donated by spouses and next of kin who believed their loved ones died from CTE. Additionally this study failed to provide a control group to compare the results against. The researchers should have gathered 200 brains of non-football players who died at similar ages and checked for signs of CTE. Rather this study should be used to advocate better player safety and garner support for further research into the matter.
Using the skills of data analysis that I gathered in Frontiers of Science and combining them with the skills I have gathered in University Writing, I wrote an analysis of a football survey done on NFL players with CTE. Keeping with the themes of Frontiers of Science, the middle paragraphs analyze and summarize the study. Introducing the themes in University of Writing, the first paragraph is written in prose to garner reader interest and the last paragraph presents my claim in which I admit that I do not agree completely with the study. While it is a very loose interpretation of a small subset of the skills that I have learned in both classes, I believe the essay is concise yet effective. The topic chosen for the study is of particular interest to me as the possibility of CTE having higher prevalence in football players affects not only me, but some of my closest friends and family members.