The new research says that even at younger levels, football can be unsafe - not just at the fast-paced pace of play that college and the NFL have.
In mice, head impacts that caused concussion and those that led to CTE had different effects inside the brain.
"Our experimental results showed no correlation between concussive signs at the time of injury and CTE brain pathology", said corresponding author Lee E. Goldstein. Researchers conducted postmortem brain examinations of four male teenage athletes - with an average age of 17 - who died after suffering sport-related head injuries. They noted that as the tau protein accumulated, it would spread and cause more damage.
"The NFL is setting a bad example by focusing on the concussion and while not focusing on the hits", said Goldstein.
Researchers from six facilities analyzed brains from teenagers and young adults who had experienced mild head impact but died soon after from another cause. The more important factor are blows to the head in general. The middle linebacker for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins now suffers from dementia and has been diagnosed with probable CTE. "What it tells us is as these hits are occurring even in the early aftermath - days, weeks, months after these injuries, this disease is already being kicked off". They found a range of post-trauma pathologies, including one case of early CTE (the disease has four stages) and two brains with abnormal tau accumulations. A recent evaluation from Boston University's CTE Center, of which Goldstein is a part of, found that 110 of 111 former National Football League players had been diagnosed with the disease.
Goldstein said concussions remain the red herring of CTE. It doesn't take years, or decades. The process, experts say, starts early and persists. "And all of our evidence to date shows it's progressive".
He made the announcement with Goldstein, along with former professional linebackers. The athletic director at Walpole High School says he already plans to talk to coaches about the findings from BU, to find ways players can avoid those risky hits.
Trying to spread that message has been frustrating for some advocates, who still think too many parents aren't informed despite the public attention paid to concussions and CTE (Brett Favre recently produced a documentary on making playing surfaces safer because he thought the topic was widely misunderstood). "This is really preserving the future for football".
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