CTE Isn’t Just a Pro Football Issue; College and High School Players Are Also at Risk
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 #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, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
Listen on Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Anchor and others.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
More Episodes on Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Google Podcasts; PocketCasts; & Anchor
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.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon