The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), at the Boston University School of Medicine, recently released their findings from a study of the brains of five former NFL players showed that the effects of concussions sustained over their career had resulted in catastrophic brain injuries for those individuals, causing their brains to resemble those commonly found in elderly patients with Alzheimer's.
...using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), at the Boston University School of Medicine, is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE has thus far been found in the brains of five out of five former NFL players. On Tuesday afternoon, researchers at the CSTE will release study results from the sixth NFL player exhibiting the same kind of damage.
"What's been surprising is that it's so extensive," said Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, and co-director of the CSTE. "It's throughout the brain, not just on the superficial aspects of the brain, but it's deep inside."
CSTE studies reveal brown tangles flecked throughout the brain tissue of former NFL players who died young -- some as early as their 30s or 40s.
McKee, who also studies Alzheimer's disease, says the tangles closely resemble what might be found in the brain of an 80-year-old with dementia.
"I knew what traumatic brain disease looked like in the very end stages, in the most severe cases," said McKee. "To see the kind of changes we're seeing in 45-year-olds is basically unheard of."
The lasting effects of concussions has long been one of the NFL's dirtiest secrets. The NFL, under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, created a committee to study the effects of concussions on pro players back in 1994, chaired by the New York Jets' team physician, Dr. Elliott Pellman, and the findings of that committee were, to put it charitably, beyond laughable. Their findings were so dramatically out of line with those of the NCAA (who were also studying the issue) and the medical community at large that the integrity of those studies was almost immediately opened to question. Particularly since the committee's findings just so happened to coincide with a rise in former NFL players' disability claims against the NFL as a result of post-concussion effects...claims that could have ended up costing the NFL millions in disability payouts.
In fact, in 2006 the family of former Steelers' and Chiefs' Hall of Fame center Mike Webster won a large payout from a federal appeals court against the NFL on a disability claim over the mental and physical incapacities suffered by Webster in the final years of his life (which were plagued by bizarre and erratic behavior before ending at age 50 from a heart attack) as a result of countless concussions over his playing career. Webster's family was opposed in their claim by both the NFL and the NFL Players Association (particularly NFLPA chairman Gene Upshaw), which used the NFL's questionable study to try and dismiss previous claims of lasting disability among retired players resulting from concussions.
Webster's brain (posthumously donated to the study by his family) was among those examined, as were the brains of a few other players:
The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, along with other research institutions, identified traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of late NFL football players John Grimsley, Mike Webster, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk and Terry Long.
Grimsley died of an accidental gunshot wound to the chest. Webster, Long and Strzelczyk all died after long bouts of depression, while Waters committed suicide in 2006 at age 44.
All of the articles linked to here are well worth a read, especially for those not familiar with the rather sordid history of the NFL's whitewashing of the concussion issue, which includes minimizing or ignoring potential fixes for concussions among active players that might have required the NFL to publicly question or refute the results of its own study and possibly accept liability.
This will be an issue to pay attention to over the coming years, especially as the NFLPA tries to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement with league owners. Several million dollars in potential liability claims has a tendency to throw a large monkey wrench into even the most cordial negotiations.