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A trainer and a coach check out New York Giants wide receiver Domenik Hixon after he was
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Football Injuries May Have Lifelong Consequences

January 29, 2009 11:33 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A new report shows that football players may be more prone to brain damage than once believed, but will the findings change the sport?

Responding to Repeated Head Trauma on the Field

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Clinical researchers have reported that the brain of an 18-year-old high school football player is showing the first signs of an incurable disease—chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—that he contracted due to trauma on the field.

Boston University School of Medicine's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy says that the discovery could shed new light on how much concussions affect athletes. "The findings are very shocking because we never thought anybody that young could already be started down the path to this disease," Dr. Robert Cantu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at BU Medical Center, told The Boston Globe.

But the 18-year-old (whose name has not been mentioned in the media) may only be the tip of the iceberg. Researchers recently studied brain tissue from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Tom McHale and found that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia. McHale, who was 45 years old, died eight months ago of a drug overdose, and is one of six former players found to have had the condition, reports The Washington Post.

"I can tell you I've been looking at brains for 22 years, and this is not a normal part of aging. This is not a normal part of the brain,” said Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University, of McHale’s brain.

While the recent research seems to point undeniably to a link between football and serious injuries, what isn’t so clear is if the sport—at the high school, college or professional level—will change significantly in order to protect its players.

After Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered a life threatening spinal cord injury in September 2007, Time magazine asked the question, “Is Football Too Dangerous?” The story reported that some practices had been developed over the years to try and address serious injuries. Methods included giving players a cognitive test at the beginning of the season to establish a baseline for measurement after a head injury. The NFL also developed a hotline players can call anonymously if coaches force them to play against a doctor’s advice. “Such measures won't prevent catastrophic injuries on the gridiron, but they may help to keep them to a minimum,” according to the story.

Related Topics: Coach charged in player’s death; post-concussion syndrome

The findings about head injuries related to football add to an already bad month for the sport. Kentucky high school football coach David Jason Stinson was charged last week with reckless homicide in the case of a player who died of heatstroke during practice.

Fifteen-year-old Max Gilpin collapsed and had trouble breathing on Aug. 20 during an extremely strenuous practice without water breaks. The heat index that day was 94 degrees, reports Fox News.

The charge means that jurors didn’t find Stinson’s actions intentional, Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel was quoted as saying by Fox News, but instead that "a reasonable man should have realized something like this could have occurred."

Even beyond football, concussions have been in the news recently. In September, researchers released data that showed memory and emotional problems can persist long after a concussion is supposed to have healed, in a condition called post-concussion syndrome. The syndrome can affect between 30 and 80 percent of people who have concussions and symptoms can last for months.

Reference: Concussions; football

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