PBS Tackles CTE

Submitted by Balrog_of_Morgoth on September 19th, 2015 at 12:56 AM

PBS published an article yesterday that summarizes the findings of a recent CTE study. Add this to the growing pile of evidence:

A total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players have tested positive for the brain disease at the center of the debate over concussions in football, according to new figures from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on the study of traumatic head injury.

Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they’ve examined and in 79 percent of all football players. The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia.

In total, the lab has found CTE in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school.

Here is a link to the full article:




September 19th, 2015 at 1:00 AM ^

I still think many NFL players would still take the paycheck compared to what the alternative lifestyle would be for them without pro football. Same goes for boxers. Crazy to think repeated head trauma might have negative effects on the brain. Waiver? Where do I sign.


September 19th, 2015 at 9:57 AM ^

What is so different from similar examples: sex without protection, smoking, driving without a seatbelt, skydiving, alcohol,etc. All these have various risks that statistics say increase the likelyhood (or contain a potentially causal link) of death, disease, etc. 

People chose everyday to do risky things with their life. It is their life, so why is it  a big deal whether you agree with their choices?

Mr Miggle

September 19th, 2015 at 3:03 PM ^

People aren't being paid to take those risks in any of the examples you cite. That's different from choosing whether to accept what may well be the only high paying job available.

If someone offered a $1M purse for fights to the death, they'd find takers. Societies do limit what risks we encourage others to take. There should be a different standard on those than the ones people take completely on their own.

Mr Miggle

September 20th, 2015 at 7:15 PM ^

We need police officers, soldiers, etc. Somebody has to do those jobs. Lots of concern is given to providing protection from the hazards of those jobs. I don't know much about loggers or fishermen, but I come from a family of miners. Much has been done to make those jobs less hazardous here. In contrast to China.

We're paying players (or offering a free education) just to entertain us. And collectively, we're in favor of changes to make the sport safer, unless they change the game in any way that may make it less entertaining.

Mr Miggle

September 19th, 2015 at 10:51 AM ^

of the risks. These studies are just now coming out. Sure, players were aware there were risks, but for the most part, nobody knew what they all were. The league is still downplaying the risks. So is CFB. Improving concussion protocols has been their most recent response.

The problem goes beyond NFL players, too. They aren't first choosing to accept these risks when they join the NFL. That starts when they are still children. Does anyone believe the results of these studies are included in consent forms? People have to do their own research in an area that's evolving and firm conclusions haven't been settled.


September 19th, 2015 at 9:54 AM ^

And while some players might assume the risk, at some point there are ethical considerations about the sport depending upon the actual amount of CTE that is occurring, and it sounds substantial. Ultimately, lawsuits and costs of insulating institutions from liability are going to be problematic.

I've done a fair amount of reading on the topic from a liability perspective and what I find troubling is that there may be no way to solve the problem with helmets, unless it's done using pharmacology.  Rotational forces are very difficult to deal with as is the brain sloshing around from the impact of two players due to rapid decelerative forces and whiplash when from body (non-head) contact.



Vengeful Barbarian

September 19th, 2015 at 4:36 PM ^

Well ok, glad that you put your need gir entertainment over the health and well being of the people playing the game. I love football, but more and more it seems to be the modern day version of gladiator fighting. it is seriously making me question whether it is ethical or not for me to enjoy it, but good to hear you don't have any concerns.


September 19th, 2015 at 6:24 PM ^

If you thought Denard Robinson would end up with something approximating ALS, in large part from his four years entertaining us at Michigan would you still feel that way?

I'm a complete football junkie.  I go to almost every Michigan home game and have done so for quite some time.  It would kill me to eliminate football, but if I thought a significant number of our football players were going to have compromised lives, I'd give the topic some serious thought but probably would pull the plug.  


September 19th, 2015 at 1:26 AM ^

It is very important to note that this sample consists of willing participants aka you cannot extrapolate this to the wider NFL community at large IMO. Sanjay Gupta did a good piece on this at CNN earlier today. This can be 50% of all retirees or 10%... Big difference.

But at the same time... I have a hard time believing the NFL did NOT know about this... I smell a big lawsuit...


September 19th, 2015 at 9:54 AM ^

There are many on this board who know how statistics work, but often they forget that when a study lines up with their opinions. 

While I have little doubt that football players probably have a greater incidence of CET than the population at large, there is TONS of info that we don't yet know. We need many more studies before final conclusions are drawn. Just to name two, we need a study that compares football players to the society at large, and then to people who participate in other sports. another one would be a random sample of NFL players, and it goes on from there.


September 19th, 2015 at 10:01 AM ^

absolutely. Those numbers are scary, but are CTE levels that trigger a positive result sufficient to cause dementia and other brain damage based syndroms? Alot needs to be learned from living brains where both conditions can be tested, quantified, and compared.


September 19th, 2015 at 7:27 PM ^

Not just willing participants, but participants who were solicited because they were showing symptoms

Yes, most of the people who they tested who claim to have symptoms have had evidence of that in their brains. 

This really affords no conclusion whatsoever about the relationship between football and tau protein buildup in the brain. Its a biased sample, there's no control group, the researchers aren't blind, its not even published in a peer reviewed journal,it's  just numbers handed off to the media. 

This BU group has a vested interest in turning "CTE" into a thing as they are raking in money for this publicity-fueled psuedoscience. 

The only existing controlled studies to compare football players with similar populations of people have found no differences in this kind of pathology in the brain. 

As a neuroscientist, I would caution everyone to take anything from this group with a huge grain of salt. 


September 19th, 2015 at 1:43 AM ^

"In total, the lab has found CTE in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school."

Whoa horse. If we are going back to high school and it's that widespread you'd think we'd have had generations of young men with dain Bramage issues.

I've no doubt that the NFL has serious issues, those guys are so big and so fast the power of the huts have to be incredible.

But High School?

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September 19th, 2015 at 1:46 AM ^

High school football is included here, too.  It's only a matter of time before parents start telling their kids they can't play unless there is a concerted effort from the HS to NFL levels to make the game a lot more safe.  

It's going to be an interesting few years.  I am guessing that those who whine the most about the "sissification of football" will be defensive players and couch potatoes who have never done anything more strenuous than open another bag of chips.


September 19th, 2015 at 2:09 AM ^

There's soo much more needed research. The game has changed so much even over the last 5 years. Id like to see a study of 1000-5000 kids that only played up til the end of HS. I think that's where it's most important.

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September 19th, 2015 at 7:47 AM ^

Human limits are constantly being pushed to new heights, bigger, stronger, faster athletes. Unfortunately the human skull and the brain cannot keep pace and be trained to take more punishment. With high school kids becoming more college ready at an earlier age, wanting the instant gratification of playing at high levels NOW instead of progressing naturally, it's no surprise that kids have more issues sooner in life. Study the masses, not the 1% of the total population who made it to the NFL.


September 19th, 2015 at 6:26 AM ^

If this is true for people who play high school football, than I wonder how many people who have played any sport have CTEs. Oh well, I guess that is not as important as an agenda.

Ronnie Kaye

September 19th, 2015 at 7:10 AM ^

More trite commentary from someone with no scientific background. These MGoThreads on head injuries all follow the same trope. Honestly, do you in the "yeah...but!" crowd think you are going to look like you're on the right side of history in the future? 


September 19th, 2015 at 7:34 AM ^

Ronnie Kay is a moron.

1. Why do you think I have no science background? That is dumb assumption.

2. I raised a valid point. People get concussions in numerous ways and this suggests that a lot of people might have CTE.

3. Plenty of people who say "yeah.... but" are on the right side of history. When a study came out linking vaccinations to autism, some people said "yeah...but." When studies came out calling climate change a hoax, some people questioned it. What about the Paxil study that recently was shown to draw a completely opposite outcome based on the exact same data?

4. This is what these threads are for, discussion.

5. Your dismissal of opposing views as "trite" and the wrong side of history shows you to be a horrible spokesperson for people who think there is a big problem. Your comments are either lazy or ignorant.

Thanks for adding to the discussion!

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Ronnie Kaye

September 19th, 2015 at 8:15 AM ^

1. If you do have a background as a scientist, then I'm wrong. But you're not stating you do, even with taking issue with the assumption that you're not. 

2. Do you really think the scientific community isn't ahead of you on the belief that a lot of people might have CTE? Do you think it's arbitrary that they pick on football players? These are not valid points. For someone taking me to task for assumptions, your use of the word "agenda" is more than a little heavy-handed. The NFL has a TON invested in this and money spurs research. If there were scientists who said that football players don't have CTE in numbers that are radically different from the general population, it's implausible that the league wouldn't be working with them on announcing such a conclusion.

3. Andrew Wakefield said that vaccinations caused autism. "Yeah...but" came in massive numbers from his peers, not just, as they've been described by another poster in this thread, the couch potatoes. Same thing with climate change. Show me the overwhelming throngs of scientists debunking these findings and then maybe you can equate it with those issues. If you think we just need more time and they will be debunked in similar ratios in the scientific community, well then, I'd love to have your info for a friendly wager! 

4. Yes, they are. I am adding my viewpoint that I don't respect the opinions of people who doubt those who are dedicating their lives to research when they have done none of their own and, in my view, are merely clinging to their football fandom.

5. I called out laymen for being trite. You called out the researchers from Boston University and Veterans Affairs for having an agenda. Which one of these is less responsible?