The Link Between Football and Traumatic Brain Injury

Another football-filled fall is here, and many fans and non-fans alike are prompted to think about this beloved national sport and its affect on the millions of kids and adults that play. For many who study the brain and how injuries affect its functioning, football clearly poses risks with all of the impact the head sustains over the course of a career.

The Concussion Foundation defines CTE as: “A degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. In CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells.” CTE is essentially a degenerative brain disorder associated with repeated head trauma.

As more research in this area is conducted, the link between football and traumatic brain injury continues to strengthen. Now, one of the largest studies on the subject to date finds that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had CTE. A new study by Mez, Daneshvar, and Kiernan 2017 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017examined the brains of 202 deceased people who had played football at various levels, from high school to the NFL. Results revealed that CTE existed in 87% of all the players and 99% of the NFL players.

Many people who have CTE were reported to have behavioral or mood symptoms, as well as well as issues with memory, executive functioning, and attention. It has also been reported that conversational skills can be negatively impacted. A study by Berisha et al. (2017) “tracked a steeper decline in vocabulary size and other verbal skills in 10 players who spoke at news conferences over an eight-year period, compared with 18 coaches and executives who never played professional football and who also spoke in news conferences during the same period.” While more research needs to be done in this area, evidence seems to suggest we need to consider the effect of high-impact sports on communication.

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