Until recently, the best medical definition for concussion was a jarring blow to the head that temporarily stunned the senses, occasionally leading to unconsciousness. It has been considered an invisible injury, impossible to test—no MRI, no CT scan can detect it.
But today, using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE has thus far been found in the brains of five out of five former NFL players..."What's been surprising is that it's so extensive," said Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, and co-director of the CSTE. "It's throughout the brain, not just on the superficial aspects of the brain, but it's deep inside."
McKee, who also studies Alzheimer's disease, says the tangles closely resemble what might be found in the brain of an 80-year-old with dementia.
These former jocks also suffer long term anger and sleep disorders: "The damage affects the parts of the brain that control emotion, rage, hypersexuality, even breathing, and recent studies find that CTE is a progressive disease that eventually kills brain cells." Many former jocks find themselves bankrupt, divorced, and cut off from society, all without a clue as to why.
Perhaps, and I'm not being sarcastic, the damage begins quickly enough to explain some of the inexplicable problems we see among pro athletes (though basketball and baseball don't seem to offer the same out for its misbehaving players).
Needless to say, young men will still kill themselves to make it to the NFL; they're young and much fussed over. Also needless to say, the NFL denies that football causes brain damage.
The NFL is planning its own independent medical study of retired NFL players on the long-term effects of concussion.
Methinks some unemployed former Big Tobacco lobbyists and "scientists" will find themselves working again. I pray my son opts for swimming or soccer.