Although NFL fans complain about the recent changes to NFL rules, such changes are paramount to the health and safety of the players. Prior to the inception of neuroimaging techniques, such as the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), little was known about the impact of concussions. Neuroimaging has enabled experts to study the brain in unbelievable detail. Given the advances in medical technology and the increasing number of athletes reporting significant problems stemming from concussions, the topic has been forced into the limelight.
Junior Seau, known for his violent style, died from a self-inflicted shotgun wound in 2012 at the age of 43. Reportedly, Seau told his close friends and family that something was awry with his brain. Following a study of Seau's brain, doctors found that he suffered from a chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE is a "progressive degenerate disease of the brain found in athletes (an others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as we all as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head." Although research on CTE is in nascent stages, experts have uncovered the derivation of the alleged cause and ensuing symptoms.
Repeated brain trauma can trigger a progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, causing a multitude of symptoms. Such trauma may also cause the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. Tau is known to cause other pathologies like Alzheimers and dementia. CTE is a complicated condition that may manifest itself as quickly as months after brain trauma and up to decades later.
CTE causes a wide range of symptoms including: memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and progressive dementia. Thousands of NFL alumni have reported such symptoms, which has lead to an unprecedented settlement with the league that may coast over $1bn.
New York Giant punter Steve Weatherford and former NFL receiver Sidney Rice have agreed to donate their brains to medical research upon their respective deaths. Rice claims he has suffered anywhere between 15 and 20 concussions since he started playing the sport at the age of eight.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't educated enough on (what) concussions can lead to. The brain studies by the doctors will be huge to help, maybe prevent."
Weatherford reports similar concerns: "A lot of my teammates and a lot of close friends have dealt with concussions and the depression that comes with that. There's a lot of issues that stem from brain injuries and it's not just professional athletes. This affects everybody."
Rice and Weatherford hope that their commitment to raising awareness will garner support from additional athletes.
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