By Ken Reed

A survey of 3,500 former NFL players, conducted by Harvard researchers, revealed NFL players are six times more likely to suffer from a variety of cognitive problems than members of the general public.

“These guys are such fantastic athletes, but a significant percentage of them are doing serious damage to themselves,” said Andrea L. Roberts, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the lead investigator on the study. The study is published in the Aug. 30 American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The position players most likely to experience cognitive issues, including depression and anxiety, were running backs, linebackers and defensive linemen.

According to Michael Alosco, an assistant professor of neurology and an investigator in Boston University’s CTE Center, the Harvard study is important because the study is “probably one of the largest looking at the long-term consequences of playing football, particularly at the professional level.”

The study results add to a growing pile of research studies showing how dangerous playing football is to the human brain, including the risk of getting the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a slow-developing, ugly disease that significantly impacts former NFL players and their families.

But the scariest part is that CTE isn’t just a disease impacting former NFL players. It also strikes former high school and college football players.

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.

Scary indeed. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the human brain wasn’t designed to deal with the head trauma that’s an inherent part of the game of football.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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