Study Finds CTE In 110 Of 111 Donated Brains Of Former NFL Players

You have no doubt read or at least heard about a recent study published about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE, a brain disease that is thought to affect a large number of football players. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is on record that he is contemplating retirement on a yearly basis, saw it, and said that it gave him pause.

Results from a Boston-area brain bank, where patients voluntarily donated their brains for post-mortem research purposes, found some startling trends, according to their recently-published study. About 90 percent of the brains that they studied across all levels of football demonstrated signs of CTE.

To be more specific, in the 202 brains studied, 177 of them showed signs of CTE. 110 of the 111 brains that had been donated from former NFL players demonstrated signs. Even three of 14 players at the high school level had given indications that they suffered from CTE.

It should be stressed that because this is a selective sample, it is very difficult to draw generalities about how widespread CTE may truly be among professional athletes in the realm of football. It is likely that the vast majority of those who chose to donate their brains for research already believed that they were suffering from CTE.

In other words, it is possible that a random sampling of NFL players may find that the frequency of CTE is not nearly as widespread as the better than 99 percent that the study would seem to indicate without any broader context.

But it is still something to be very concerned about. According to the study, the average age of death of these players found to have CTE was 66, and among them were 17 suicides, which is a bit less than 10 percent of the 177 diagnosed.

The hope is that some good can come from this study in terms of finding ways in which CTE can be studied in living patients, as, currently, the only scientifically accepted means of detecting CTE is to actually study the brain, which is impossible in the living for reasons that should be obvious.

There are those who believe that the findings from this study of the samples in the Boston brain bank could help lead to breakthroughs in searching the development of the disease among the living, which would seem to make sense, as they now have 177 confirmed cases of players from all levels of experience and competition.

There is nothing that you can do for somebody who is suffering from CTE if the only way that you can confirm it to be true is in death. Any development into successful diagnosis in the living would be a complete game-changer.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • alevin16

    I would be curious how players in other contact sports are effected. For example Rugby players. There are some people who think that less padding and protection would encourage the players not to hit with their head. I have no clue what the answer may be but I hope they find something to protect these guys.

  • falconsaftey43

    It is incredibly hard in many areas of medicine/health to have “good” science and studies that you can actually draw a definitive conclusion from. There are just so many obstacles standing in the way. Unfortunately, this lets people warp things to suite their narrative and get the general public to align with their view point (with either good or bad intentions). I truly hope the science can continue to get better, and CTE can be better understood. But there are many many obstacles and questions that are still unanswered: population/selection bias, no control group, are there other contributing factors besides head trauma, genetics, actual rate of occurrence in general population and in populations of athletes. The brain is so complicated, it’s not going to be an easy task.

  • The real part of Ann McKay’s report that WASN’T written about by ESPN is that CTE is caused by not only the hits to the head/neck area but the everyday run of the mill “normal” boring hits as well. If anyone has seen it, she was a guest on “Adam Ruin’s Everything” last year and talked about this. If anyone wants to check it out, do a youtube search for “Adam Ruin’s Everything CTE” and you’ll find the segment. She has been doing these studies for a while. They are out there for anyone who wants the read them. It only takes a little time to search for “Ann McKay CTE.”

  • Michael James

    “It is likely that the vast majority of those who chose to donate their brains for research already believed that they were suffering from CTE.”
    Yep, definitely a point here.

  • Big White

    I guess we’ll have to ban Military Service, Rugby, NASCAR, MMA, Boxing, Professional Wrestling, Sumo and Football. Not to mention all the animals we’ll have to cage like Rhinos, Deer, Longhorn Sheep, Elk and for good measure no more Heavy Metal.

  • Jacob

    Studies like these may not only give Ben pause, but every parent who is considering whether to allow their sons to play the game.

    The game is fun to watch, but honestly studies like these give me pause also. Maybe pads and helmets really aren’t enough to protect most players in today’s NFL, but they need to be dead in order to find out for sure.

  • Froggy

    This leaves me very troubled as well. I stopped watching boxing years ago because I didn’t want my entertainment to be watching guys inflict brain damage on one another. Football is closer to my heart, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that it causes serious brain damage for a significant number of players, and that it is unlikely that all of the effort toward concussion protocols is changing that overall fact.

  • Jeff McNeill

    I agree with every word you are saying. They need to know how often it occurs in non athletes as well as athletes in other sports. No to mention doing double blind tests to help remove any preconceived bias from the tests.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Thank you, someone who actually understands all the flaws with current statistics being thrown out there by the media

  • Reality

    How prevalent is it in soccer? Basketball? Hockey? Or in general? I just feel there is some kind of agenda behind this, like there is with just about every “scientific” study now-a-days.

  • nutty32

    Not talking about anyone here, but never understood why so much of the football fan base takes this issue (possible CTE danger) so emotionally & react with hate. Many posters here make a good point about the non-random sample used and the possibility that we may all show signs of CTE at death as life itself is degenerative and dangerous, but can’t understand people that get angry at (attempts to establish) facts & science. If indeed tackle football does cause CTE, why do people react so emotionally in their angry denials?

  • It IS a growing concern in Hockey, but there aren’t many players donating their brains at this point. The selection bias in this particular study is so strong that it needs to be looked at more as a diagnostic study than any data on actual percentage of CTE in NFL players.

  • Bradys_Dad

    Fascinating stuff – I’d be willing to bet that any of us that have played any contacts sports have, to some degree, signs of CTE. Thank you for this!