Doctors now have a way for football players to actually see the damage to their brains:
UCLA researchers led a team of scientists that used a chemical marker called FDDNP to measure the degree of brain damage in five retired football players. That marker latches onto the tau proteins that build up in the brain when someone suffers from Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments like chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Doctors can then perform a routine positron emission tomography (PET) scan to see those chemical markers, highlighting how many tau proteins there are and where they end up.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, is caused by repeated head trauma. In the case of football players, CTE can be brought on by helmet-to-helmet collisions and hard tackles. The condition can lead to memory loss, depression, suicidal behavior and dementia, among other symptoms.
Joseph Serna writes in the L.A. Times:
The team recruited five former NFL players who were at least 45 years old — a quarterback, a linebacker, a guard, a center and a defensive lineman. Each of the players went through a battery of tests, including exams measuring their degree of depression and cognitive ability.
On the whole, the players were more depressed and showed more cognitive loss, such as a loss of short-term memory, than other men of comparable age, education and stature, researchers found. The tau proteins seen in the five volunteers were located in the same areas of the brain as they were in the brains of deceased players who had CTE.
“My hope is that this study will allow us to diagnose conditions much easier, learn which interventions are the best and have a better understanding on how to improve our equipment and the rules to make the game as safe as possible,” said study volunteer Wayne Clark, who was a quarterback in the NFL for five seasons.
That’s the last, best hope for football’s survival: to make the game as safe as possible. And even that may not be enough.
Anybody who loves watching football (as I do), or has kids who play (mine don’t), should read Tom Junod’s article in Esquire Magazine about NFL players who play through the pain:
The perspective of pain is what this story is about. For fans, injuries are like commercials, the price of watching the game as well as harrowing advertisements for the humanity of the armored giants who play it. For gamblers and fantasy-football enthusiasts, they are data, a reason to vet the arcane shorthand (knee, doubtful) of the injury report the NFL issues every week; for sportswriters they are kernels of reliable narrative. For players, though, injuries are a day-to-day reality, indeed both the central reality of their lives and an alternate reality that turns life into a theater of pain. Experienced in public and endured almost entirely in private, injuries are what players think about and try to put out of their minds; what they talk about to one another and what they make a point to suffer without complaint; what they’re proud of and what they’re ashamed by; what they are never able to count and always able to remember.
Junod was able to get some fascinating insight from Steeler Ryan Clark, Raven Ed Reed, Bronco Willis McGahee, and more NFL pros. Read article here.