On Jan. 30, advocates are marking Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Awareness Day, which is just ahead of the Super Bowl – the crowing jewel of American football. StopCTE Awareness Foundation (StopCTE) encourages people to reflect on the lives cut short by and those suffering from the degenerative brain disease, which is now often associated with contact sports including football.
The incurable fatal disease can only be diagnosed after death, during an autopsy, according to Harvard Health. It is caused by repeated head impacts (RHIs) over a number of years, or chronic traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), as the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains. StopCTE notes that the disease has been found in people with and without a history of concussions, but the more significant factor is the length of time exposed.
Findings from a recent study of mice, summarized by Science Daily, confirms that even a mild TBI, if repeated over time, can hasten long-term brain deterioration. The study observed mice that were exposed to repetitive mild TBIs. At just 24 months, the animals showed evidence of learning and working memory impairment. Researchers also found that similar damage can occur after only one mild TBI incident, but to a lesser degree.
While TBIs may not always rise to the level of a concussion, it is one of the more common forms, as Beasley Allen has discussed, and it may increase the risk of developing CTE, according to StopCTE.
It is the how and why of sports-related TBIs that Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre is passionately working to call attention to in the new documentary Shocked: The Hidden Factor in the Sports Concussion Crisis. Throughout the documentary, which he helped produce, Favre and several medical experts highlight how 1 in 5 sports-related concussions occur due to the player’s head hitting the ground.
In the film, which was released earlier this month by Stadium, they explain that damage often occurs regardless of protective equipment such as helmets. But the research has just scratched the surface and Favre says, ‘[t]here’s a tremendous amount of fear, for me and I think a lot of players, for what the future holds.”
Favre recounts his personal experiences on the field including the crashing blow that ended the career of the “ultimate ironman with a consecutive game streak,” as he was described by Stadium. While he credits the NFL and others in the sports industry with some advancements regarding TBIs, he admits there remains a great deal of work to do in the future. He explains that the type of field can help minimize TBIs and that decision-makers within the sports industry should be willing to invest in shock- or impact-absorbing padding on playing fields.
Given what he now knows about the seriousness of head trauma, Favre even said that he will not encourage his three grandsons to play football.
Research since the early 2000s has shown increased levels of the protein Tau in the brains of deceased NFL players who developed CTE. Last fall, however, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System made a breakthrough discovery in terms of diagnosing CTE in living patients, including athletes and veterans, who are also at an increased risk of developing CTE.
The researchers discovered higher levels of a new biomarker, a protein called CCL11, in the brains of former college and professional football players. The study’s authors say that more research is needed, but they are enthusiastic that the new discovery clears the way for more research into prevention and treatment options as well.
While watching upcoming Super Bowl LII, remember some of those players wouldn’t want their children to play the same sport to protect their health. The causation and effects of TBIs and CTE are still being researched and discovered, but we know that it takes a toll on players’ bodies that must be addressed.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, handles cases involving traumatic brain injuries. You can contact him at 800-898-2034 or Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com.
StopCTE Awareness Foundation
National Center for Biotechnology Information