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NFL players suffer from a little known brain injury: CTE

As football season gets underway, so too have the complaints about changes in NFL rules. The kick off has been moved back and the yards moved up for taking a knee in an attempt to encourage more touchbacks. There are more flags than ever thrown for "roughing the passer."

You may ask: When will the National Football League stop changing the game?

Then there is the other side of the equation. The game itself is more injury inducing - with players that are bigger and stronger than ever - and modern research has proven that there are hidden, life-altering dangers to playing the sport. One of those dangers is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a serious brain condition that can shrink a football player's brain in half by the end of his lifetime.

Which raises the question: Sure, the NFL is changing the rules of the game to prevent injuries, but is that enough?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy linked to football players

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy was first discovered in a football player (Mike Webster) in 2002. Since then, researchers out of Boston University School of Medicine have found that the condition affects the majority of football players.

Of the 94 pro football players tested for CTE post-mortem (the condition is only diagnosable after death), 90 tested positive. College players faired only slightly better: 45 of the 55 individuals tested showed signs of CTE.

Yet, while this research signaled that there was a clear link between football and CTE, it took the NFL over a decade to admit to the link, finally doing so in 2016.

More about CTE

CTE is a chronic condition caused by repetitive trauma to the brain - such as that experienced by football players who absorb thousands of hits in their short careers. At first, there are no symptoms. The illness develops over time as a protein, tau, begins to build throughout the brain, killing nerve cells along the way.

When symptoms do appear, they start as rage, depression and impulsivity. Eventually, the tau expands to the emotion and memory parts of the brain, causing confusion and memory loss. Finally, dementia takes hold and an affected person's brain can shrink to one-half its original size. Many people affected by CTE die earlier than they would have without the condition.

What can be done

No treatment currently exists for CTE. Instead, the focus must be on preventing brain injuries and compensating individuals and families who have suffered from the disease.

  • Some former football players will benefit from a settlement with the NFL, if one is resolved.
  • Another option is to seek workers' compensation against the teams and leagues they played for during their careers.
  • Fans can also support players by encouraging, not disparaging, rule changes that prevent injuries.

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