New NFL, NCAA Statistics Paint Scary Picture About Football and Brain Damage
The National Football League had about the worst week imaginable last week, between a star running back being indicted on a felony charge of injury to a child and a bumbled investigation of a domestic violence incident involving another running back.
Thanks to those headline-grabbing stories, a third glancing blow to the NFL managed to sneak through largely unnoticed: The league admitted in court documents that "it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at 'notably younger ages' than in the general population," reports Ken Belson of The New York Times.
Statements made by the NFL in those documents are "the league's most unvarnished admission yet that the sports' professional participants sustain severe brain injuries at far higher rates than the general population," Belson wrote. "They also appear to confirm what scientists have said for years: that playing football increases the risk of developing neurological conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that can be identified only in an autopsy."
The NFL wasn't the only sports organization to have damning findings released about football and brain damage, however. CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon reviewed an expert report from plaintiffs in the concussion lawsuit against the NCAA, which alleged college football players to be "three times more likely than the general population to have symptoms related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a debilitating disease associated with repetitive head trauma." CTE wasn't limited to football players, either; student-athletes in other contract sports—lacrosse, wrestling, ice hockey, field hockey, soccer, and basketball—were one-and-a-half times more likely to have CTE symptoms than the general population, per the expert report.
In addition, the report estimated between 50 and 300 former college athletes whose athletic careers spanned from 1956 through 2008 will be diagnosed with CTE annually. Roughly 10 to 50 former athletes from that same time span will be diagnosed with post-concussion symptoms per year, the report alleges.
You don't have to look far for a real-life example of such troubles. ESPN's Rick Reilly recently interviewed former Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht, who penned a song to his wife and daughters from the perspective of an NFL retiree who may not always remember them due to concussion-related brain damage. The 33-year-old Utecht, who suffered five concussions during his NFL career, is already suffering from memory loss, telling Reilly that he has zero memory of being a groomsman at a friends' wedding.
In an interview on CBS Sports Radio's The Morning Show, Utecht said he couldn't pinpoint the number of concussions he suffered throughout this football-playing career.
That's an interesting question. As we've learned so much more about concussions, I think back on that career, and even though I retired at 29, I started tackle football in 3rd or 4th grade. That's 20 years. That's one thing people don't realize about pro football payers. You got to go back to when contact actually began. I think of all the hits where the vision went blurry or the headaches came afterwards. I had five documented (concussions), but going back and thinking about that, there's definitely more. And unfortunately, there were some that I didn't (report) in the (NFL) because I wanted to play.
Is it any wonder that parental concerns about football are skyrocketing? With both the NFL and NCAA acknowledging the higher rates of long-term brain damage among football players, parents will continue confronting tough decisions when their children approach them with a desire to play football.
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