With the increasing awareness of head injuries in sports, athletes are starting to see devastating long-term effects on the human brain. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head (J Neuropathol Exp Neurol, 68(7): 709–735). Notable athletes who have suffered from CTE include football players, Dave Duerson and Junior Seau; both men committed suicide and left notes requesting that their brains be analyzed for CTE. The autopsy results for both of these athletes indicated that they indeed suffered from CTE. At least a dozen other former NFL football players have suffered from CTE.
What is the sport industry doing to help research and prevent CTE? Since Seau’s death in 2012, the NFL has teamed with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to further research this brain disease as well as develop methods of prevention. The NFL has since increased fines on athletes for using helmet-to-helmet hits against other players and has worked to increase the effectiveness of the athlete’s equipment. Will research and safety development prevent CTE? Possibly, but without knowledge, understanding, and the implementation of increased methods of prevention, athletes in collision sports may continue to be at risk for CTE.