Shocking statistic: 96% of pro football players suffered from brain disease before death
According to the study — first reported on Tuesday this week by journalists at the PBS program Frontline — 96.2 percent of deceased pro footballers had the condition, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, before dying.
Researchers at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Bedford, Massachusetts were limited with regards to the number of samples available, but nevertheless studied the brains of 79 ex-National Football League athletes and soon determined that all but three — 76 of the 79 — showed evidence of CTE.
Jason Breslow reported for Frontline that researchers studied the brain tissue of 128 footballers in all who played semiprofessionally, in college, in high school or for the NFL before dying and determined that 101 athletes, or 80 percent of the entire sample, tested positive for CTE. With respect to pro athletes, the statistic is closer to nine-out-of-ten.
“Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE,” Dr. Ann McKee of the Mass. brain bank told PBS. “Playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk.”
The latest report couldn’t have come at a worse time for the NFL, which is in the midst of responding to a lawsuit filed by more than 4,500 former players who say the league hid links between football and CTE. Those potential class-action plaintiffs have until October 14 to decide if they will agree to a settlement proposed by the NFL.
According to the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute non-profit organization, athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma are prone to being diagnosed with CTE, which involves the building-up on the brain tissue of an abnormal protein called tau. Although CTE can only be diagnosed with a post-mortem examination, athletes who lived with the disease can show symptoms that include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, paranoia, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and progressive dementia before death.
The release of the latest CTE report comes just as its being made public that Jovan Belcher, a former linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs NFL team, suffered from the disease ahead of a December 2012 murder-suicide that claimed his life and his girlfriend’s.
"The Chiefs knew he and his significant other were having major domestic violence issues and he had a major concussion two weeks before this happened,” Ken McClain, an attorney who is suing the Chiefs over the incident, told Fox News.
Responding to requests for comment concerning the just released Belcher autopsy, the NFL told FX this week that the league “has a long history of a changing the rules of the game to make it safer on the field, providing players the best medical care, and updating protocols on diagnosing concussions, treating concussions and returning to play after a concussion."
In January, ESPN reported that a Harris Poll found professional football to be the most popular sport in America among adult fans.