Football and Brain Damage

Football is, by far, the most popular sport in the United States. You’ve got the National Football League (NFL), which generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue each year. Then you have college football, each school with its own fanatical following. Below that there’s the Friday night lights of high-school football, followed up by Pee Wee league football where children wear pads bigger than they are.

Thunderous hits, clouds of dust, and big collisions are all part of what keeps crowds fired up at football games, but they could also be contributing to a serious health problem among athletes.

A recent study presented to the American Academy of Neurology found that 40% of retired NFL players showed evidence of abnormal brain structures, half showed difficulties with executive functions, and 45% had troubles with memory and learning. The findings in this study suggest a correlation between playing football and brain trauma.

The study examined the brains of 40 retired NFL players. The players had been in the NFL for an average of 7 years, and had stopped playing within the last 5 years. The study included MRI as well as cognitive tests. 43% of the players had enough brain damage to qualify as traumatic brain injury, and the longer the player was in the NFL, the more likely he was to show signs of traumatic brain injury.

This recent study, in conjunction with prior concussion research, does suggest a strong connection between head blows sustained while playing football and brain injury.  It’s important for players, parents, and coaches to be aware of the risks, and to take the necessary steps to keep the players safe.