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New Research on Brain Injuries in College Football

The drumbeat continues when it comes to information on the dangers of brain injury in football. Businessweek recently reported on even more research–this time focused on college athletes–that exposes potential long-term harm for players. The most troubling aspect of the research is that it shows that real danger may arise even in cases where the player suffers no official concussion. It is still a bit too early to say with clarity what this might mean for future changes to the game or potential legal liability for injuries. However, at the very least it is yet another reminder of the fact that it is no longer possible for anyone connected to the game to claim uncertainty or lack of knowledge about potential long-term harm as a result of brain injuries suffered while playing.

College Football Study
According to the report on the study, the researchers used various tests–blood scan, cognitive measures, brain tests, and similar tools–to assess the potential head trauma for 67 college football players. The testing was conducted over the course of the season to get an idea of potential harm as playing time increased over a set period.

What did they find?

In short, the players who suffered the hardest hits showed the clearest brain damage. More specifically, those players were found with higher antibody levels which themselves are linked to brain damage. Even when examined “double blind,” meaning no one involved knew specific identifiers in the results, it was clear that abnormalities existed.

What is the significance?

One of the most notable aspects of this research was the way that blood tests in particular were able to help show possible long-term harm even when clearer signs (like actual concussions) were not present. One researcher involved explained, “All football players have repeated subconcussive hits-throughout the game, the season, and their careers,” he says, but without external symptoms of injury, the hits were hard to measure. The blood tests appear to offer an early warning system.”

Considering that tens of thousands of young men play college football, these latest results indicate that many more may be exposed to serious long-term harm. And because the focus is on injuries that are “less severe” one-time events than concussions, many of those players may suffer brain injury unknowingly, with various effects down the road.

The Context
This latest study comes amid countless other examinations of the damage that players suffer as a result of extensive careers in the game–often starting as children in youth leagues. The NFL is already facing lawsuits for hundreds of former players making a range of legal arguments about long-term harm, cover-ups, and lack of attention to obvious risk factors which endangered players lives unnecessarily.

In the last month or so widespread attention was again drawn to the problem when researchers identified a degenerative brain disease in living football players. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has previously been identified in football player after death, including those who committed suicide. Yet, the Center for the Study of Chronic Encephalopathy, used new tools to test 35 living former NFL players. Startlingly they found CTE in 34 of those players.

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