Autopsies of Over 90% of Former NFL Players Showed Signs Of Concussion Disease

Source: US News and World Report

Many football fans fondly remember Rick Arrington as the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback from 1970 to 1973, but his daughter’s memories are tainted by years spent watching her dad suffer from late-stage chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

A degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma, CTE causes depression, suicidal thoughts, aggression and mood swings. Eventually, folks have problems with thinking and memory, and may ultimately develop dementia. Repeated blows to the head — even if they don’t cause concussions — are considered the main risk factor for CTE.

Though he had no history of concussions, Arrington said her dad suffered with CTE for more than 35 years. Speaking about her father’s illness for the first time at a recent benefit for the Concussion Legacy Foundation, sportscaster Jill Arrington said she no longer enjoys watching football.

“When I see players’ heads collide on the field, I see my dad’s face begging me through tears to end his misery. I see the strongest man I have ever known struggle to sleep for months on end … and unable to make a simple cellphone call.”

Researchers at the Boston University CTE Center recently announced that they have now diagnosed CTE in the brains of 345 of 376 (91.7%) of NFL players studied, including Arringto. By contrast, a 2018 Boston University study of 164 donated brains found one (0.6%) with CTE — in a former college football player.

The NFL player data doesn’t necessarily mean that 9 of 10 current and former NFL players have CTE. Exactly how many do is unknown since the condition can only be definitively diagnosed by brain autopsy after death.

Brains with CTE show a buildup of a protein called tau around the blood vessels. This is different from what is typically seen in brains affected by aging, Alzheimer’s, or any other brain disease.

“Every 2.6 years of football at any level doubles your risk for CTE, and the longer you play and the higher level that you play, the greater your risk,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of the Boston University (BU) CTE Center and chief of neuropathology at VA Boston Healthcare System. She also directs the UNITE brain bank, the world’s largest tissue repository focused on CTE and traumatic brain injury.

The new research builds on findings from a 2017 study that showed CTE in 99% of the brains of NFL players, 91% of college football players, and 21% of high school football players in the UNITE brain bank.

“Now, five years later, we have many more [brains], and we are still seeing that more than 90% of NFL players are affected,” McKee said. “Even though public interest in CTE rises and wanes, this problem isn’t going away.”

“In the brain bank population, we are seeing a lot of cases of CTE, and what this tells us is that we need to do something immediately, and we are still sitting back on our heels,” McKee said.


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Autopsies of Over 90% of Former NFL Players Showed Signs Of Concussion Disease - Part 2