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Get Your Head in the Game

A long-standing debate on the safety of football has garnered some recent media coverage from the upcoming Will Smith film Concussion, based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who discovered the link between American football and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease of the brain found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive head impacts. Research has dominated the subject of contact sports with brain injurie. Doctors, researchers, and family members have cast concern on the viability of these athletes in high risk sports because of how often each player receives a blow to the head, whether protected by a helmet or not.

The Stern Lab, in affiliation with Boston University, studies the presence, effects, and causes of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). According to Dr. Stern, repetitive head impacts (RHI) can trigger progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal form of a protein called tau. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia. Concussions also play an important role in the progression of the disease. Concussions, sometimes left untreated on the field, are mild brain injuries with the following signs and symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic, include Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head: Temporary loss of consciousness, confusion or feeling as if in a fog, amnesia surrounding the traumatic event, dizziness or “seeing stars”, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, delayed response to questions, appearing dazed, and fatigue.

However noble and necessary these efforts have been, certain obstacles have emerged from opening this can of worms that some would like to keep a tight lid. The original story behind Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, whose autopsy discovery of CTE from the famed NFL star, Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Webster sparked a controversy, hit a raw nerve with the NFL and the convictions that repetitive head trauma caused this newly discovered disease. The NFL has made efforts to improve the protection of its players by updating protective gear such as helmets and shoulder pads, but the sport has some concerned parents choosing not to let their kids participate and casting a negative connotation with the contact sport.

In addition to the invisible red tape, CTE can only definitely identified posthumously, making the prevention and management of the disease difficult to tackle. The Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University conducted a study that identified 87 out of 91 deceased football players (who had their brains donated to the center for research): that’s 96% of players who played professionally! Furthermore, the identified CTE in 131 out of 165 individuals posthumously who played football at the high school level or above.

This is all to say that research is important. It helps to identify, treat, and prevent diseases and ailments with scientific proof. Knowledge in this case is power and knowing the risks involved with your daily activities will help navigate what you choose to do with your time. Check out the research that PPA is currently conducting and get involved today!