By Ken Reed
Most people associate chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain disease caused by repetitive brain trauma, with the NFL — specifically retired NFL players.
But CTE is more than a pro football issue. While the Boston University CTE Center has discovered CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 former NFL players, the Center has also found CTE in the brains of 48 of 53 former college players. Those college players didn’t go on to play football in the NFL. Moreover, 21% of the 14 brains of former high school football players studied at the Center had evidence of CTE. And those players never played football beyond high school.
Admittedly, those are pretty small sample sizes (brains can only be examined for CTE after death) but the percentages are still quite scary.
Some of the cases of CTE in college and high school players were considered “mild.” But even mild cases of CTE had some serious clinical symptoms that worsened over time. For example, 67% had depression symptoms and 52% had anxiety symptoms. In addition, 89% had impulsivity tendencies, 69% felt hopelessness, 67% had an explosive temper, 67% had substance use disorders and 52% were physically violent. And those were considered the mild CTE cases.
The most common cause of death of those with mild CTE was suicide.
“The studies are significant for those who have been playing football and contact sports for years at the collegiate and professional level,” said Jim Chesnutt, M.D., an associate professor of orthopedics, rehabilitation and sports medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.
“We are not yet sure if this applies to younger contact sport athletes, but we certainly would like to limit the number of head blows and injuries in athletes of all ages.”
Unquestionably, we must find ways to limit blows to the head in football. But here’s the elephant-in-the-room question: Should youth and high school athletes even be playing football, a game in which repetitive brain trauma is inherent in the sport? And unlike pro football players, the brains of high school and college players are still in the development stage.
“Is it worth the risk now, however slight, that less severe but still substantial damage could be occurring to high school and college students whose brains haven’t even finished developing yet?” asks Tara Haelle, a writer for Forbes magazine in an article on the risks of football for high school and college athletes.
Before answering that question, consider this finding: Purdue University researchers have compared changes in the brains of high school football players who had suffered concussions with the brains of high school football players who were concussion free and found brain tissue damage in both. That’s scary stuff. That means brain injuries are occurring without players, coaches or parents being aware of it.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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