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CTE Plagues Heisman Trophy Winners and Families

Three-quarters of 1,035 brains of football players — over 700
–examined at Boston University had CTE

The “taboo topic” is the centerpiece of “The Other Heisman Club” in the Washington Post, Dec 9, D1, by Kent Babb: the number of former Heisman winners with diagnosed or suspected Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The degenerative brain disease is increasingly in the news for a number of reasons.

Four Heisman winners have been posthumously diagnosed with the disease: Howard Cassady, Pat Sullivan, Paul Hornung and Charles White. The implication in the article is that more winners already exhibit symptoms of CTE but whose families can’t “know” until after death. But the families know.

Something is wrong. Sadly, silence is the preferred approach. And the unwillingness of our society to confront the obvious doesn’t make it any easier. And the “whistling through the graveyard” approaches to concussions and the Concussion Protocols used worldwide don’t provide much guidance about an alternative approach to Brain wounding. Facts matter:

  • Four percent of Heisman trophy winners died of CTE, and the list of their wounded fellow winners is growing. If you extrapolate those numbers to the 25,000 former NFL players, over 1,000 of them are probably carrying the CTE markers.
  • Three-quarters of 1,035 brains of football players, 0ver 700, examined at Boston University had CTE.
  • Researchers at Boston University found CTE in 92 percent of former NFL players who were analyzed: they analyzed the brains of 376 deceased former NFL players and diagnosed 345 of them with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
  • More than half of the homeless have experienced traumatic brain injury and 1 in 4 have had moderate to severe brain injuries.
  • Approximately 876,450 post-9/11 veterans suffer from untreated brain wounds.
  • Researchers estimate that as many as 60% of incarcerated individuals are living with TBI, significantly higher than the 8.5% reported in the general population.
  • Studies on prison and jail populations have reported a range of 25-87% of inmates reporting head injuries or TBI.

Of course, it is traditional to attack these numbers. Nay-sayers will demand more research. Hand-wringing by stake-holders on both sides will, like protests after mass-shootings, last a while and then subside. If anything, more dollars will go into researching how to make contact sports more safe. And treatments that are non-pharmaceutical will be ignored. Since “everyone knows there’s no treatment for brain injuries,” the best we can hope for from the medical profession is contained in the latest proceedings out of Boston.

The Robert C. Cantu Concussion Summit was held on December 8, 2023, at the Cantu Concussion Center at Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA. The theme of the conference was “Prevention of Concussion and Long-Term Effects of Repetitive Traumatic Brain Injury (RTBI).” In what is becoming a repetitive list of findings, the conference summarized:

  • Eliminate intentional or avoidable head impact in contact and collision sports in both practices and games.
  • Encourage policies and rules that limit the number, duration, and intensity of contact sport practices.
  • Reinforce proper and safer techniques that avoid head contact at all levels of play.
  • Implement rules of play that reduce and penalize intentional or avoidable contact to the head and neck.
  • Correlating specific clinical symptoms with CTE neuropathology remains an important area for further investigation.
  • Improve the criteria for Traumatic Encephalopathy Syndrome (TES) through further research.

Feel better? More importantly, if you are the parent of someone with a brain wound, what actionable intelligence can you take from that list? How will that list help you and yours deal with the here-and-now of a TBI/Concussion-suffering loved-one? If you’d like to learn more about what is happening, and what you can do, view this earlier Blog. Additional information is here.

Below is an  insightful film about brain wounds 


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