Investigative Feature on CTE in American Football

99% of NFL Players Have CTE

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The inside of a high end helmet used by NFL players to prevent concussion. Photo credit- Harrison Andrews

 

In a recent study published in the journal ‘JAMA’, it was discovered that 99% of deceased NFL players had CTE.

CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative disease that is a result of multiple traumas to the brain. CTE’s can only be identified in a brain examination once someone has died.

American Football is often referred to as one of the most dangerous sports to play in the world and with new developments into CTE studies, this reputation isn’t in any danger of going away.

Between 1900 to 1905, forty five people died playing the sport which resulted in an intervention from the president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, evaluating if America had a place for such a violent sport. As a result helmets were introduced and ultimately became compulsory for all players in the NFL.

One of the most recent examples of CTE was found in ex-New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was found guilty of the first degree murder of Odin Lloyd, his future brother in law, in 2015. Hernandez hung himself in his cell in April 2017 and had shown symptoms of CTE prior to his death including memory loss and displays of aggression.

After his death, Dr Ann Mckee, a leader in CTE study, discovered that Hernandez had a stage three CTE. The worst stage CTE is a stage four, which mean Hernandez’s CTE was incredibly serious. Hernandez’s defence did not raise the issue of a CTE due to the fact that Hernandez was claiming to be not guilty but it could be that the murder of Odin Lloyd could be partly attributed to CTE.

Cases of concussions are not just limited to the NFL and can be seen at all levels of the sport in different countries. Calum Lyle, a defensive back for the Swansea Titans, experienced a concussion in the 2016-17 season during a Premiership game against the Hertfordshire Hurricanes.

When asked what it felt like, Lyle replied ‘I tackled the opposing team’s running back and the next thing I knew, I didn’t really know where I was. I almost stayed on the field but one of my teammates told me to go and get it checked out. I went to an ambulance and they checked me out and confirmed I’d suffered a concussion’.

When asked whether it affected how he tackled people afterwards, Lyle said ‘To be honest , it was a bit that tackle was a bit off a one off as the coaching staff for the Titans regularly emphasise safe tackling and playing the game the right way, sometimes it [concussions] just happens’.

The NFL has improved its concussion protocol with more concussions being diagnosed every year. In 2015, 271 concussions were discovered in NFL players which was a thirty one per cent increase from 2014. However, they did decrease last year.

A large majority of concussions are as a result of helmet to helmet contact and as a result, the NFL are actively trying to eliminate it by increasing fines and penalties. However, the NFL have been accused of trying to throw their weight around with suspensions by players such as Hall of Fame linebacker, Ray Lewis. Lewis was referring to a recent one game ban given to Pittsburgh Steelers rookie, Juju Smith-Schuster who was deemed to make an unnecessary hit to the head/neck area of the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker, Vontaze Burfict.

Whilst CTE’s are a serious issue within the sport of American football, there is clearly a thin line between keeping players safe and destroying the nature of a physical sport.

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Table showing the amount of Concussions in the NFL. Credit- Harrison Andrews

 

If you have any comments or theories on CTE in American football, feel free to comment.

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Feature on Injuries

Interview: Injuries in American Football

 

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Taylor-Jones (Bottom Left) celebrating the 2015-16 Division 1 National Title with the Titans just a year after his injury. Photo credit- Whizzyfingers Photography.

American football has become one of the most dangerous sports in the world and is not looking like changing any time soon. The NFL has often come under fire for failing to fully protect its players but it seems like the problem also exists in the U.K.

Lewis Taylor-Jones, an offensive lineman for the Swansea Titans, has first hand experience of a long term injury after sustaining a tear in a knee ligament in 2014. Taylor-Jones was set to be a key player for the Titans in the 2014-15 season but injured himself in an Oklahoma drill. The Oklahoma drill is one of the most physical training drills in American football and is widely used.

Despite being so widely used, the Oklahoma drill has its critics as many believe the drill is too dangerous for players and is ‘archaic’. However it would be harsh to blame Taylor-Jones’ injury purely on the Oklahoma drill. Taylor-Jones plays in one of the most injury prone positions in the sport. In a study carried out by the Journal of Physical Activity and Health over ten thousand high school students, it was discovered that offensive lineman were injured more than any other position.

Interestingly the report also mentions that the most common injury sustained by offensive lineman were knee injuries and that the medial collateral ligament in the knee was the most common injury in American football. One of the main questions posed by these findings is whether anything can be done to prevent these injuries.

One of the main ways players are able to prevent knee injuries and re-injuries is by wearing knee braces. Knee braces have been proven to protect against medial collateral ligament injuries and provide confidence for offensive lineman when putting weight on knees.

It would seem that knee braces certainly prevent against knee injuries but players outside of the NFL are expected to pay for them with their own money. With top braces costing around £100, should clubs be paying for their players protection? If teams in the United Kingdom are unable to afford the braces, should they be made compulsory so that offensive lineman would be forced to buy them? Taylor-Jones is certainly a supporter of knee braces and an interview with the player can be heard below.