On Tuesday a(nother) blow was dealt to the NFL, as well as fans of one of the few entertaining sports on the planet, when a study was published in the medical journal JAMA that stated that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (a.k.a. CTE) was discovered in 99 percent of the brains that dead NFL players donated to science.
The JAMA study was the largest CTE study yet, and required all the examined brains to have had football as the No. 1 exposure to head trauma, regardless of whether the patients who donated said brains experienced any symptoms while they were still alive or not.
The authors of the study did note that a possible source of bias could have been relatives donating the brains because their loved ones were exhibiting well known CTE symptoms (which include: confusion, impaired judgment, depression, memory loss, aggression, anxiety, impulse control issues, and suicidal behavior) during their lives. The authors also stated that without a comparison group, like college football players or all pro football players, they're unable to estimate the specific risk to the brain that is posed by playing the sport.
Put into raw numbers, 110 of the 111 NFL players brains examined showed CTE, including those of previous NFLers who had been publicly confirmed to have the condition, including Dave Duerson, Bubba Smith and Ken Stabler. It was also shown to be a risk in the amateur ranks, as it was found in 48 of 53 college players, and 3 of 14 high school players.
"The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes," the league told CNN in a statement they've probably had prepped for awhile. "There are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE."
Last year, for the first time, the NFL confirmed a link between their brand of football and CTE. The year before, a federal judge approved a class action settlement between the league and their former players that would pony up up to $5 million for any retired player that had a serious condition associated with consistent head trauma.
Ann McKee, who's the director of Boston University's CTE Center as well as the study's coauthor, says that her team will continue to try and understand who's most susceptible to contracting CTE. To do this, they'll look at things like the lengths of exposure to head trauma, the age of people who first experience head trauma, and how CTE relates to the length of players' careers.
Researchers will also examine the brains that tested positive during this most recent study to see if there are genetic risk factors.
"It certainly can be prevented," she said. "And that's why we really need to understand how much exposure to head trauma and what type of head trauma the body can sustain before it gets into this irreversible cascade of events."