COLLEGE STATION - Brain injuries suffered by NFL players are now becoming commonplace and many more cases are almost certain to occur with tragic results, said an expert from Boston College during a sports medicine symposium Friday at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Ann McKee, director of neuropathology at Boston College, also serves as a member of the Mackey White Traumatic Brain Injury Committee for the National Football League. She is an expert on brain injuries, especially those involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy, called CTE.
She has examined numerous brains of deceased NFL players, including that of former San Diego Charger Junior Seau, who committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the chest on May 2, 2012 at the age of 43. Later studies by the National Institutes of Health concluded that Seau suffered from CTE, a type of chronic brain damage that has also been found in other deceased former NFL players.
Since then, 5,000 former players have sued the NFL, alleging that it had hidden the dangers of concussions and brain injuries from them. Experts are trying to find out if there is a definite link between brain injuries that can lead to suicide and possibly domestic violence.
“We have known about CTE since the 1920s, when it was first associated with boxing,” McKee said.
“We are just now learning its devastating effects on football players, from youth league to the NFL. It is totally different from Alzheimer’s because CTE is caused specifically by trauma.”
That CTE is directly associated with football and blows to the head are obvious, McKee noted. She said she had studied the brains of 80 former football players and 77 of them showed definitive signs of CTE.
“CTE results in memory loss, mood swings, change of behavior, and sometimes suicide,” McKee said.
“We have found it in the brains of healthy 18-year-old high school players, and it simply should not be there. It results in shrinkage of the brain, and we examined the brain of one former NFL player whose brain at the time of his death was the size of a 1-year-old child.”
McKee said one of the most disturbing aspects of CTE is that the disease continues even when an athlete is no longer playing.
“There is no doubt that the disease progresses even after a player has retired,” she explained.
“A player may retire in his early 30s, and by the time he is approaching 40 or so, he begins to have memory loss and dementia. The disease is still spreading in his brain.
“We have no treatments for CTE,” she added.
“Plus, the only sure way to determine if a player has it is through an autopsy and not while the person is still living.”
Her appearance was part of the Huffines Discussion, organized by the Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance, which featured an array of speakers discussing issues and trends in sports medicine.
The Sydney and J.J. Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance, part of the Texas A&M Department of Health and Kinesiology, was created with a $2.5 million endowment to focus on information and research findings among strength and sport conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, health and wellness coordinators, clinicians, sports psychologists and rehabilitation specialists and is home of the Texas A&M Coaching Academy.
Its goal is to be the bridge between scientists, practitioners and the general public in sports medicine and human performance.