In August every year, I am inundated by football. High school young men getting ready for the season, hype on the upcoming college season, and professionals getting prepared for the season are the stories in the media. Everyone has a story, comment or opinion on the upcoming games. Remember these are games. Yet we cannot get enough media coverage about football.
A study published July 25, 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the brains of deceased, former football players ranging from youth to pros. 88 percent of the individuals had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. This is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma to the skull. Trauma to any body part is not a good thing. Trauma to the organ responsible for controlling the body, including higher levels of thinking and functioning is a major stress.
The three-pound brain with 80-90 billion neurons and quadrillion interconnections enclosed in a protective casing needs to be protected. It is too valuable to be “banged around.” At younger ages as the brain develops, the impacts are more pronounced.
The latest study is the largest study to date and again suggests that football players may be at the greatest risk of developing neurologic disease. Of those pros examined 110 of 111 brains studied had CTE, of college brains examined 48 of 53, and 3 of 14 of high school brains had CTE.
Genetics, years played, amount of force and hits, hydration, and a host of other factors could affect the disease’s progression. Years ago, we did not fully understand the dangers of cigarettes, the same can now be said of football. We are just beginning to understand the impact on health that football is having.
Nationwide over one million youth participate in football each year. Concussion is the most obvious acute syndrome, but the repetitive trauma may produce symptoms of memory loss, depression, headaches, and dementia years later.
If a brain would normally begin to age at say at 80 years of age and undergoes stressors that changes the very DNA, known as epigenetics, the aging process accelerates and the organ wears out sooner. We do not have a good test to show the protein deposits, degenerative changes, and accelerated aging.
I applaud that precautions are now being set in place to lower the risks, but damage still occurs at some level. Is it worth it? This is a legitimate question. Dementia and depression are tough to see in anyone. Our society is still in love with football. We just cannot get enough. Society will pay a price. Will mothers get to the point where they will not let their children play because the risks outweigh the benefits? Brain pain, is it worth it?