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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and Football

The recent Super Bowl 52 didn’t just showcase one of the most popular sports in America, it also brought the issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to the news. CTE is not a concussion, although repeated concussions (or even more minor hits to the head) could bring on CTE. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative brain condition believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It’s commonly found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive head trauma.

More about CTE

CTE isn’t “just a concussion.” It’s the outcome of repeated concussions or less severe impacts over time that result in lasting damage to the brain. Brains with CTE build up a protein called “tau,” which dislodges from brain fibers during injury. After repeated injuries, tau clumps up in the brain, disrupting information flow. Symptoms can take from eight to 10 years to appear, and worsen over time. These symptoms include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts/behavior
  • Difficulty carrying out tasks
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulties with speech or language
  • Motor impairment
  • Blurry vision
  • Dementia (in advanced cases)

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed during autopsy, so it’s difficult to know with certainty how many current and former football players actually have the condition. A 2017 JAMA study showed that, out of 202 deceased players whose brains were donated to science, nearly 90% were diagnosed with CTE. And, the longer the person played football, the worse the brain damage. Researchers are currently working on trying to diagnose CTE early, via MRI.

Athletes who begin playing contact sports at an early age are at risk for traumatic brain injuries like CTE. The longer the career, the bigger the likelihood one will develop CTE or other TBI. Although not everything is understood about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, researchers do say that it can’t be caused by only one concussion in the absence of other head trauma. It’s definitely a cumulative trauma-type condition—and not every single athlete or veteran develops CTE, either.

The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE

On January 25, State Rep. Carol Sente of Illinois unveiled a bill that would ban organized tackle football for children under 12 years of age. The bill is named for former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, who was diagnosed with CTE after he died by suicide at age 50. Duerson donated his brain to science so it could be studied for signs of CTE. Similar bills are in the works in New York and several other states.

Whether you sustained a mild concussion or a more serious traumatic brain injury, you should seek medical attention right away. If your injury was the result of another person’s negligence or reckless behavior, you’ll want an experienced Chicago TBI attorney from Gainsberg Law on your side. We invite you to schedule a meeting with our legal team through our contact form, or by calling 312.548.9019 today.