December 4, 2023


Appreciate your health

Would I Play Football Again Knowing What We Know About CTE?

I’m a med student and previous wide receiver. My brother’s in the NFL. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is on my mind.

I’m settled into a desk chair with my coffee, fueling up for a further day of Zoom clinical college, broadcast reside to my New York Metropolis apartment. The bloc we’re on now—neurology—is a doozy. Effectively, honestly, they’re all doozies.

Today’s lecture subject: traumatic mind damage.

The fourth lecture slide includes a photo of Mike Webster, the former Pittsburgh Steeler whose story was manufactured popular by the 2015 movie Concussion—starring Will Smith as the medical professional who discovers the explosive website link in between soccer and a neurodegenerative illness observed in athletes and other individuals with a background of brain trauma referred to as chronic traumatic encephalopathy—or CTE.

I know what is coming. It is not typically you get a football reference through a med university lecture. The up coming several slides define the effects of repetitive head trauma. Listed here it comes. CTE.

My classmates are knowledgeable I’m an ex-soccer player. I get a immediate message from a person of them: “Knowing what you know now, would you participate in yet again?”

It’s not the initial time I’ve been asked. I’d requested myself that similar query a extended time back.

Soccer is deeply ingrained in my household. My father and both of those grandfathers played in college. Justin, my young brother, is the setting up quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers. My youngest brother, Patrick, is a freshman restricted conclusion at the University of Oregon.

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I performed 11 decades of soccer, four of them as a starting huge receiver at Montana Condition University. All through all that time, I by no means experienced a diagnosed concussion. That isn’t to say I have not had my truthful share of violent collisions.

Iowa State college football players in stadium
Emma Dau/Unsplash

Right after my job at MSU, I had an chance to go to an NFL team’s rookie mini-camp—basically a tryout for undrafted gamers. I declined for a couple reasons. I realized I wasn’t slice out to be an NFL huge receiver. I also required to get started the long journey to become a physician.

My brain overall health was not a factor in that choice.

Tracing the timeline of CTE discovery

The to start with backlink between soccer and CTE was unearthed in 2005 by Bennet Omalu, M.D., a neuropathologist who’d examined the brain of previous Steeler and NFL Corridor of Famer Mike Webster though operating in a coroner’s office in Pittsburgh.

“Iron Mike,” as he was identified, performed in 220 NFL soccer video games. The most of any player in Steelers’ record. He’d endured recurring head trauma for the duration of his vocation.

Webster’s indications are now characteristic of repetitive head trauma: memory reduction, behavioral and mood changes, cognitive impairment, and dementia.

The underlying approach in the mind tissue is an accumulation of an irregular protein known as tau, which types neurofibrillary tangles. Tau is also believed to be just one of the culprits powering Alzheimer’s illness. Simply because identical areas of the mind have a tendency to be afflicted, most persons show these characteristic indicators.

Would I Play Football Again Knowing What We Know About CTE?

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As general public consciousness of the one-way links involving repetitive brain injury, soccer, and CTE grew in the early 2000s, factors commenced to change in the NFL. In 2009, the league released concussion protocol.

It was also around this time that Texas Tech University head coach Mike Leach was showcased on the front web site of The New York Instances for owning abused a player with a concussion by confining him to a small, dim space whilst the rest of the staff practiced. Leach was fired.

The globe was at last starting to get notice—and motion.

Fast ahead to 2017, when a groundbreaking Boston University study was posted in the Journal of the American Healthcare Affiliation. Out of 111 former NFL football gamers who exhibited signs and symptoms of CTE at demise, 110 ended up located to have diagnostic conditions of CTE from brain autopsies revealing tangles of tau protein.

The ages of the NFL gamers, whose brains experienced been donated to science by spouse and children users, ranged from as young as 23 to as previous as 89. The review encompassed all player positions. Most notably, 44 lineman, 17 defensive backs, 10 linebackers, and seven quarterbacks.

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I try to remember examining about this examine even though gearing up for my fourth and ultimate season on the gridiron at Montana Condition. The discovering was monumental—an irrefutable argument that soccer brought on CTE.

Or did it?

Close-up of helmet in dark stadium
Lucas Andrade/Unsplash

When it will come to CTE and soccer, the marriage is not black and white

The issue with the 2017 study and, definitely, a lot of the CTE study up to this point, arrives down to who was included—and who was not.

These brains experienced been donated by family members for analysis especially because they shown the attribute symptoms of CTE from gamers with identified head trauma.

“It’s biased sampling,” claims Steve Kernie, M.D., professor and chief of Critical Treatment and Healthcare facility Medication at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley’s Children Clinic, whose study focuses on mind self-maintenance subsequent damage. “It’s hard to make truly strong conclusions other than gamers in call sports who have repetitive head trauma are definitely at hazard,” Kernie adds. “This is also one thing we’ve acknowledged for 100 years.”

A manage group would be essential to un-bias the data—such as adding into the pool of members the brains of previous NFL gamers who didn’t show symptoms of CTE, furthermore the brains of non-athletes.

Kernie references a situation originally known as “punch-drunk syndrome,” first described by American pathologist Harrison Martland in a 1928 Journal of the American Health care Affiliation essay about the odd habits of boxers—another brutal, beloved sport very long connected with head trauma.

“For some time, battle fans and promoters have regarded a distinct situation happening among the prize fighters which, in ring parlance, they talk of as ‘punch drunk,’ ” Martland wrote. “Fighters in whom the early signs or symptoms are effectively identified are said by the followers to be ‘cuckoo,’ ‘goofy,’ ‘cutting paper dolls,’ or ‘slug nutty.’ ”

A 10 years later, the expression punch-drunk would be changed by the additional acceptable dementia pugilistica.

It’s vital to point out that the backlink among repetitive brain damage and CTE is not exclusively affiliated with soccer or boxing. Other make contact with sports like soccer and wrestling have been implicated far too.

There are also documented conditions of CTE resulting from armed service blast accidents.

“During the Iraq War, company personnel were being coming again with signs that weren’t rather PTSD,” says Kernie, describing a growing armed service merger with CTE in these circumstances, which hasn’t been approximately as mined by the media. “The NFL gets extra notice than the army regretably,” says Kernie.

Again to my initial query. Would I perform football once again?


The friendships and daily life classes I gained from more than a 10 years of tackle soccer have formed the man or woman I am these days.

Composite image of stadium and college football player catching ball in the air
Ameer Basheer Ryan Reinoso/Unsplash

Furthermore, though I believe the association between repetitive head trauma, football, and CTE is serious, I imagine the common community has a skewed notion. The existence of a concussion or two does not assurance a diagnosis of CTE. A lot of other components are probable at play—including ample restoration right after an initial concussion and genetic predispositions to the ailment.

My own hindsight problem about playing soccer is now staying asked at the outset by mother and father who are nervous about signing their young children up for the activity.

The dwindling numbers are telling. Peewee soccer participation is at an all-time minimal. Meanwhile, the waning curiosity in soccer appears to be supplying gains for soccer, which ironically is not with out its neurological threats.

I questioned Dr. Kernie what his advice would be to mother and father thinking about whether or not to let their children interact in speak to sports—particularly football.

“As a mum or dad of children who played sports activities, I assume you just cannot dwell in a bubble,” he says. “Everything we do carries some hazard. It’s really about mitigating all those challenges as most effective you can.”

A person considerable way to mitigate these risks, specifically in youth football, is by delaying the tackle ingredient.

My brothers and I began tackle football in fifth quality. If you requested us now, we would have all place off tackling right up until late middle school or even higher school. Not just to minimize repetitive head trauma, but to 1st grasp other soccer skill essentials like human body positioning, blocking technique, and hand-eye coordination. All of these skills can be formulated via flag soccer.


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As I see it, the concentrate for budding soccer gamers at a young age ought to be on establishing all those competencies relatively than celebrating the standard physicality which inevitably will come afterwards.

Inspite of the public’s skewed perception on the pervasiveness of CTE amongst soccer players, we can hopefully all concur on two points: To start with, reducing repetitive head trauma. Next, tackling this challenge progresses by delaying youth deal with leagues and promoting the fundamentals of a phenomenal activity.