Big football news: Researchers in Boston announced last week that they had examined the brains of 111 former National Football League (NFL) players and determined that 110 had a serious brain disease — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
CTE is found in people with a history of blows to the head. Symptoms include headaches, confusion, memory loss and anger control. The symptoms usually get worse with time.
This doesn’t mean that every NFL player gets CTE. Ann McKee, the head of the research project, says that the study may not be representative of the whole league because most of the brains examined were from players who had shown symptoms of the disease.
Researchers can examine someone’s brain for CTE only after the person dies. For the Boston study, the players or their families donated the brains.
While CTE may not affect every NFL player, McKee says her findings show that the disease is “not uncommon” in the league.
Sometimes, however, the big news is behind the headlines. If you read deeper into the story and the study, you will learn that the researchers also examined the brains of 53 men who played football in college but never in the pros. Forty-eight of the college players — or 91 percent — were found to have CTE.
This means that college football players may be at a similar risk of getting CTE as professional players. That finding, it seems to me, raises several important questions as the college football season approaches.
NFL players are paid millions of dollars to play football. Someone such as superstar quarterback Tom Brady may think it’s worth the risk of injuring his brain to make all that money.
College players, however, are not paid. Many receive scholarships. But that is small compensation compared with the money that coaches, athletic administrators and people at the television networks make from college football. Shouldn’t the athletes — the people who may be risking their brains to play — receive a greater share of that money?
Also, colleges and universities sponsor the football teams we watch on Saturdays. The mission of these institutions is to develop and train the minds of their students. Should these schools be sponsoring a sport that may be damaging the brains of their student-athletes?
And shouldn’t the schools consider ways to lessen the risk for their players? Maybe teams should play only eight or nine regular-season games. (Many schools play 12.) Or perhaps teams should not allow hitting during practices. (The Ivy League has eliminated full contact during practices.)
Shouldn’t colleges and universities think more about their football players’ health than the money they make from the sport?