Just over a week ago, PBS published an article featuring results from a Boston University study. It demonstrates very clearly the irrefutable link between American Football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
Found in subjects as young as 17, CTE is a degenerative brain disease which manifests itself in 4 stages ranging from Stage 2 rage and depression, Stage 3 memory loss and finally Stage 4 dementia.
It hasn’t been a rare find either; in the recent study, 87 of 91 deceased former NFL players tested positive, and 79 per cent of all football players who were examined exhibited CTE in their brain tissue.
Critics of the recent findings have stated that because CTE can only be shown definitively post-mortem, many of those who donated their brains to science would have done so already suspecting brain injury.
While this has certainly affected the results, the overwhelming evidence negates such criticism. The sheer number of American Football players who have tested positive for CTE in this study and others, indicates that the overall problem is very real.
Nevertheless, these newest findings raise questions about how we treat sport, and especially what sports we should allow children to play.
Current research indicates that it is not occasional violent collisions which pose the greatest risk, but repeated weaker impacts which pose the most severe threat.
After all, we are not talking about a sprained ankle or even a broken hand, but about permanent brain damage.
While highly unpopular, if research continues to confirm these findings, serious discussions about drastically reforming or even banning collision sports for minors cannot be avoided.
Without young talent joining teams, a sport will quickly become obscure, as teams struggle to keep up recruitment and interest falls.
It is worth mentioning however, that CTE is not a specific American Football issue. CTE has been found in Rugby and Ice Hockey players, and even Football and Baseball players are not free from it.
Any repeated minor impacts, such as headers, can increase the risk of developing CTE. However, American football, as it is played today, encourages behaviour likely to cause players harm. With a League primarily in denial and actively fighting any new research on the matter, a sport which exhibits these numbers cannot be advised to young people.