Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative brain disease that is found in people who have had serious blows to the head. CTE has been most commonly found in professional athletes who play ice hockey, football, bull riding, and wrestling. Symptoms are first seen around 8-10 years after experiencing traumatic brain injury. There are four clinical stages of CTE. The first stage includes dizziness, headaches, and deterioration in attention. The second stage includes memory loss, erratic behavior and poor judgment. The third and fourth stages include slowing of muscular movements, progressive dementia, deafness, suicidality, and vertigo. The only way to test for CTE is post mortem during an autopsy.
A study that was conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University in 2012 revealed that former NFL players are at greater risk for brain disease. In the study they tested the brains of 91 deceased players and of those 91 players 87 of them tested positive CTE. They then tested 165 former football players who played at either the high school, college, or professional level and of those tested 131 of them tested positive for CTE. Of the 40 percent of those who tested positive were the defensive and offensive linemen. The defensive and offensive linemen are at greater risk because they come into contact with one another every play of every game. The findings from this study supports previous studies that suggests that it is the more minor repeated head injuries that are dangerous and not the violent collisions that occur less often. Within the past 4 years 3 former NFL players committed suicide, and they were all found to have CTE.
Based on these finding the NFL is trying to make football safer, and there is an ongoing debate on the necessity to change rules and gears in order to protect athletes from brain damage.