Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is defined as a progressive degenerative disease of the brain often found in athletes (and others) with an associated history of repetitive brain trauma. Although CTE has been considered a rare disease, a recent study has helped bring this disease into the spotlight and provides evidence that it may be an occupational and/or recreational hazard. 

The recent study and research that were conducted by investigators at Boston University in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs and reported by Frontline identified CTE in 87 out of 91 (96%) deceased National Football League (NFL) players.  It is believed that CTE stems from repeated incidents of trauma to the head, and symptoms can include depression, memory loss, and dementia. 

Further, the study found CTE in brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who played football either in high school, college, semiprofessionally, or professionally.  These findings support research that suggest that repeated head trauma, including minor head trauma, poses a great risk to individuals, and major head traumas or concussions are not the only causes for concern.

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The NFL has revised safety rules to minimize head-to-head hits and invests a significant amount of money toward research.  However, the controversy continues with the NFL and class-action lawsuits, including arguments that the organization tried to conceal data linking football and brain disease.

Brain trauma and concussions in football are not a new topic for discussion. There has been a years-long, ongoing debate surrounding this subject that should be considered by the facts and data.  Earlier this year, Mike Ditka, who coached the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, was interviewed on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and stated with regard to brain trauma, “I think the risk is worse than the reward.  I really do.”

A study presented by the 82nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, led by Alexander K. Powers, MD, concluded that a single season of football play can produce brain changes demonstrable on magnetic resonance imaging in high school varsity players.  This further supports the increasing amount of evidence that changes in the brain can occur absent a concussion from high impact sports.

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So again, we ask, is football’s future uncertain?


  1. CTE prevalent in deceased players, study shows. website. September 18, 2015. Accessed October 7, 2015.
  2. Breslow JM, Amico C.. Concussions in the NFL: how worried are you? website. January 29, 2015. Accessed October 7, 2015.