Another hit for football

We may be known as home to the reigning NFL champions, but Boston is also the center of research efforts that have methodically plowed through the defensive line the multibillion-dollar industry erected against the idea that the repeated head injuries its players are subject to exacts a devastating human toll.

The NFL conceded the problem several years ago and agreed to a settlement with former players that could mean a payout of as much as $1 billion to those suffering the effects of repeated head trauma.

The evidence linking repeated head injuries to the degenerative brain condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has been clear for some time. But a new report published yesterday adds even more weight to the findings. Researchers affiliated with Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System examined the brains of 111 NFL players and found evidence of CTE in 110.

“It’s impossible to ignore this anymore,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of BU’s CTE Center and chief of neuropathology at the Boston VA, senior author of the report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But just what impact the new report will have is unclear.

We have become as inured to the latest CTE findings as we have to fresh tweets from a White House occupant who keeps lowering the bar for presidential standards. The shock and outrage meter for both has spiked so much that new cases just don’t carry the same edge.

The new study comes with one big limitation: The researchers examined the brains of players whose families donated them, and McKee acknowledges that many did so because they believed their loved one was showing signs of CTE. The findings therefore cannot estimate the prevalence of CTE among football players. But as the New York Times story points out, even if all the remaining 1,300 former NFL players who died since the researchers began collecting brain specimens were free of CTE — which is itself highly unlikely — the prevalence of CTE would still be approaching 9 percent, which is “vastly higher than in the general population.”

The coach at Blackstone Valley Technical High School told the Herald the numbers from the study were “alarming.” But the coach at Milford High School said, with improvements in helmet technology and rule changes football is the “safest it’s ever been.”

The NFL issued a statement saying it is “committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.”

The Patriots, as taciturn as their do-your-job coach, declined to comment.



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