NFL Admits Link Between Sport and Brain Injury

The National Football League has long held the stance that there is no definitive link between the sport and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), but it appears they have changed their tune in the wake of new research.

When asked if there was a link between football and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE, NFL senior vice president for health and safety Jeff Miller replied, “The answer to that question is certainly yes.”

Miller’s acknowledgement came after assessing recent research by Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist, who has diagnosed CTE nearly in nearly 100 former NFL players. The condition can only be diagnosed after the person has passed.

“I unequivocally think there’s a link between playing football and CTE,” McKee said. “We’ve seen it in 90 out of 94 NFL players whose brains we’ve examined, we’ve found it in 45 out of 55 college players and six out of 26 high school players. No, I don’t think this represents how common this disease is in the living population, but the fact that over five years I’ve been able to accumulate this number of cases in football players, it cannot be rare. In fact, I think we are going to be surprised at how common it is.”

The NFL later released a statement about Miller’s comments, saying “The comments made by Jeff Miller yesterday accurately reflect the view of the NFL.”

The NFL had previously settled a lawsuit filed by the player’s union over concussions and CTE for $1 billion, but the players are appealing based on Miller’s statements and a clause that stated the NFL would not be held liable for any future claims of CTE.

What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative disease caused by repetitive head trauma. Contrary to what some people believe, it’s not just a bunch of concussions that can lead to the disease. Concussions can certainly play a role, but asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head also contribute to the condition.

This repetitive trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, which can lead to the build-up of an abnormal protein in the brain. This protein – known as tau – and the larger condition of CTE have been associated with numerous neurological conditions, including:

As we mentioned above, doctors are only able to diagnose the condition after death, but medical science is trying to come up with a way to diagnose the disease in living individuals. Researchers at UCLA appear to be close, as they’ve been working on tests to detect for the presence of elevated levels of tau proteins. If they can pinpoint a tau protein test, researchers may be able to administer the test on athletes or military personnel to determine their risk for the disease and get them the neurological services they need before the conditions worsens.

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