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November 8, 2012

Football and Brain Damage: Weighing the Risks

The deaths of NFL players Ray Easterling, Junior Seau, and Dave Duerson have drawn a lot of attention to concussions. In particular, they drew attention to the NFL’s concussion lawsuits that were prompted by long term effects of concussions. These lawsuits seek compensation for NFL players because of the apparent hidden danger of brain injuries and concussions suffered when playing football. Law enforcement officials have ruled all three deaths as suicide. Duerson asked in his suicide note that his brain be preserved for the NFL’s brain bank. It’s likely that Easterling and Seau chose the same method of suicide preserving their brains for researchers to study the long term effects of concussions.

But new research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIH) reveals an additional outcome from repeated hits. New data shows that the death rate for ex-NFL players from other brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig, and Parkinson’s, is three times greater than the rest of the population.

A Global News study looked at the death rate of nearly 3500 ex-NFL players. Of 330 who had already passed away, ten had died from one of these three degenerative brain diseases. That rate is three times higher than the average male death rate, as brain disease affects one out of ten adult males.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the disease caused by repetitive concussions, is the more familiar disease that has been connected to deaths from sports concussions. This NIH study draws attention to previously unconsidered diseases that could be caused by repetitive brain trauma.

Researchers are unsure if some of the deaths were caused by CTE or the effects of degenerative brain disease. The NFL recently donated $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to study CTE, concussion management, and degenerative brain disease.

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