There has been a long-running effort to make viewers aware of the injuries football players’ face. Over the years concerns over the types injuries players suffer has changed. Concern has started to center on injuries to the brain. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease, has been the problem that the NFL has begun wrestling with. Football players may suffer hundreds, possibly even thousands, of brain injuries during his career. Research has suggested that there is a link between CTE and the types of brain injuries football players suffer, including concussions as well as “sub-concussions,” which can easily be missed during diagnosis.
CTE first came to light in 2002 when the body of Mike Webster showed that he had a brain that was clogged with tau proteins, which is a condition associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Prior to his death Webster had suffered from depression. CTE can cause afflicted people to suffer from dementia and depression. There have been several other former players that have committed suicide and were diagnosed with CTE after they had died.
Previously it was only possible to diagnose CTE after death. Now with proprietary brain-imaging techniques, tau proteins have been identified in five living ex-NFL players. All of these players had suffered at least one concussion over the course of their careers. This reinforces the link between CTE and brain trauma.
In order to find a way to protect the brain there is an attempt to build a better helmet. There are a number of helmet manufacturers that are not attempting to protect not just the skull but also the brain, which is much more difficult. There has been a design out of Stockholm that places a low-friction layer next to the player’s head that slides that allows the helmet to rotate slightly. This keeps the head and brain from being pulled along with the helmet.
However this Swedish helmet is not used in the NFL and may never be due to political, legal, and economic reasons. The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), which has been slow to update its standards, receives most of its funding from helmet makers. However admitting that the helmets currently in use are not up to snuff they could face legal ramifications. This would also put manufacturers into a difficult position with regards their safety claims. However, safety standards need to be addressed to help prevent CTE in all football players, whether professional or not.
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