Concussions do not cause CTE

I’m going to watch the Will Smith movie tonight. The gist of it would be this: a bunch of NFL veterans have serious neurological complications to their time in the league. And apparently they can link that directly to the concussions they experienced on the field. There was a billion dollar settlement, with 20,000 former players. 

I call bullshit.

What else do we know about people in the NFL? They are massive, and bigger than ever. Here’s some size information.  What does every player do when they get out of the league? They start looking at life in a new way and decide that they need to get healthier so they can live longer. Here are fifteen examples.  So if we can correlate exiting the NFL to massive weight loss, can they prove that the new symptoms in the former players is because of their head trauma and not because of their massive weight loss.

Because I can tell you from experience that massive weight loss can lead to depression. And assuming that the majority of these players were happy whenever they entered the league, and while they were playing, how can we attribute their sudden change to their concussive blows?

I had to do some research on CTE, and there were some pretty interesting findings. Worth noting: Previously, CTE had been associated with boxing and was called dementia pugilistica or “punch-drunk syndrome”. The risk of CTE in boxers seems most closely tied to the number of rounds boxed, not to the number of times a boxer was knocked out, suggesting that even repeated blows to the head that don’t cause unconsciousness may increase CTE risk. [Source: alz.org]

In general, there is no treatment, and no cure. And we really don’t know all that much about it. But we seem to think that it’s somehow tied to blows to the head. Here’s a great read about the NFL Hall of Famer Mike Webster and how he changed we look at concussions and injury protocol in the NFL and other contact sports.

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I can’t find his exact weight, but “Iron Mike” was 255 pounds when he played and a shell of that in the years following. I want to be very clear here: I am not saying that repeating head injury does not cause trauma, but I do not think it’s the whole story. One of the most relatable portions of his story was his drive. The guy would not stop. He was training on vacation. He was the first to practice and the last to leave. Everyone was impressed with his will and his drive. I can relate to that. I played tennis around the clock for the past two or three years. I know what the fire is like to be a man on a mission. What if that is one of the qualities that breaks us? When you remove all of what we know? What do we become?

Here are the people that get CTE:

Source of head impacts
Boxers Punches to the head
Tackle football players Hits to the helmet
Soccer players Headers and collisions
Ice hockey players Fighting, checking
Military veterans Blast injuries, combat
Victims of domestic abuse Repeated violence

I think of the brain as a very resilient machine, and I have a hard time believing that these disorders would remain dormant for so long. These football players sometimes played 20 years [if you count high school and college] before retiring. And they just seem to show symptoms later in life.

So if we are completely missing the point and the new helmets and protocols don’t work? At some point, we’ll realize that the problem is not with the hits. The problem is the lifestyle, body, and mind transformation that the players go through after they exit the league.

In this NY Times article, they analyzed over 200 former NFL players, and 111 had CTE. Most noteworthy was that 44 were linemen. The number is twice as much as the other positions. And you think about it, lineman really don’t get hit in the head more often, do they? If CTE was impact related, wouldn’t the running backs or linebackers have a higher percentage?

If you’re still reading, here’s your conclusion. We’re missing the point. The brain is a resilient machine. It’s when you try to reprogram it that things start to go haywire. Concussive blows are not the only variable at play here. New helmets will not eliminate CTE, because concussive blows are not the underlying cause.

Edit: I watched the movie. It’s definitely worth a watch. Also, I came across Ryan Freel, the first Major League Baseball player diagnosed with CTE. He committed suicide on December 22nd, 2012. Read the article, and make your own judgments. They tallied up his concussions after his death: 10. What they don’t emphasize is that he was ADHD, bipolar, depressed, and on a host of brain altering drugs. 

 

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