The NFL, which a year ago pledged $100 million for neuromedical research, said the study would help the league and players to understand the condition.
Dr. Ann McKee has amassed the world's largest chronic traumatic encephalopathy brain bank in the world at Boston University.
McKee, M.D., of the Boston University CTE Center and VA Boston Healthcare System, and colleagues conducted a study that examined the brains of 202 deceased former football players to determine neuropathological features of CTE through laboratory examination and clinical symptoms of CTE by talking to players' next of kin to collect detailed histories including on head trauma, athletic participation and military service.
Yet regardless of the doubt and warnings, the study is solid evidence that playing football does in fact open players up to the risk of developing CTE, something driven home by The New York Times in their reporting. For example, the three high school football players identified with CTE had mild symptoms, but the majority of college and semi-professional players (56%) had severe signs of the disease. This was the year after a federal judge approved a class-action lawsuit settlement between the league and thousands of former NFL players, which paid up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions related to repeated head trauma.
They are also using the 177 donated brains with CTE to try and see if there are any genetic risk factors of the disease.
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The NFL issued a statement saying these reports are important for advancing science related to head trauma and said the league "will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes". Not even kickers are immune to CTE, with one place-kicker and one punter appearing in Dr. McKee's study.
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email. "So even if every one of the other 1,200 players would have tested negative - which even the heartiest skeptics would agree could not possibly be the case - the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly higher than in the general population".
"We only get to look at these individuals at one point in time, that is at the time of their death", she said. The problems can arise years after the blows to the head have stopped. Three of 14 who had played only in high school had CTE; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semiprofessional players; seven of eight Canadian Football League players. The NFL maintains that player safety is a top priority.
Similar findings have been observed previously, "but never on this scale, and never so systematically", said Brody, who was not involved with this study but has collaborated with McKee on other research.
The behavioral and mood symptoms in people with mild disease evidence may be the result of other influences, such as neuroinflammation or axonal injury, which is an injury to the brain cells, McKee said.
Frank Wycheck, another former National Football League tight end, said he worries that concussions during his nine-year career - the last seven with the Tennessee Titans - have left him with CTE and he plans to donate his brain to research.
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