Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The body of evidence builds on brain injuries

A cross-section of the late NHLer Derek Boogaard's brain. 
The great story that the Powers That Be don't want you to hear is finally coming out: Contact sports have the very real potential to cause irreversible, tragic brain damage to participants.  

The New York Times is reporting the results of an article in the scientific journal Brain that suggests that a full 68 out of 85 brains analyzed (using donations from those recently deceased) by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, in collaboration with the Sports Legacy Institute, showed signs of degenerative brain disease.

This is something that, frankly, terrifies me as the parent of a kid who surely will someday want to play sports that Daddy likes to watch - namely hockey and football.  I've been watching this story with increasing concern since trying to put the purchase of my Jon "Nasty" Mirasty CBJ sweater into proper light (also here, herehere and here...to note a few other related posts), and the news is only crystallizing in a direction that I don't think anyone wanted to see.

I appreciate the massive disclaimer in the Times article...
Despite the breadth of the findings, the study, like others before it, did not prove definitively that head injuries sustained on the field caused [Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E.]. To do that, doctors would need to identify the disease in living patients by using imaging equipment, blood tests or other techniques. Researchers have not been able to determine why some athletes who performed in the same conditions did not develop C.T.E. 
The study also did not demonstrate what percentage of professional football players were likely to develop C.T.E. To do that, investigators would need to study the brains of players who do not develop C.T.E., and those are difficult to acquire because families of former players who do not exhibit symptoms are less likely to donate their brains to science.
 ...but I have to be honest, it doesn't make me feel any better.  When 80 percent of the samples tested show evidence of brain disease, you've got something to talk about.  And, as a parent, to worry about.

And while I'm at it, may I highly recommend that everyone with HBO catch the latest Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.  There's a stunning and powerful piece on brain injuries in football that everyone should see. Long story short, the piece presents evidence that the excessive hitting in football (games and practices) is not only causing emotional and behavioral problems for the athletes...it's making them dumber.  Here's a clip from that show:

If memory serves correct from seeing the entire show, I believe that this video is displaying the brain of a high school football player. A high schooler, for Pete's sake.

Something has to change.

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