The Latest Breakthrough in CTE Research for Your Football Players

Dr. Bennet Omalu, the inspirational character behind the movie Concussion starring Will Smith, and the lead author of the study claiming to have correctly diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a living patient over 4 years before his death, identified the now deceased patient who was the subject of this announcement as Fred McNeill, former linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings.

Although this is only one case, and researchers admit more evidence is needed before making further conclusions, this marks the first time a diagnosis of CTE was indicated during a patient’s life and then confirmed by an autopsy after the patient’s death. This is a great breakthrough in CTE research in alleviating and preventing CTE for football players, but we will need more data to adequately diagnose it.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a progressive degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive head trauma. Currently, CTE can only be confirmed post-mortem. In a new study from JAMA earlier this year, researchers examined the brains of 202 deceased former football players — more than half of them from the NFL — and talked to their family members to identify pathological and clinical features of CTE.

CTE has affected football players of all ages, including a player student athlete that committed suicide because he had known about the condition:

While it is unknown whether Madison had the same disease, the link between these two well-liked, successful, and smart young adults is in the form of a question: “Could they have been helped?”

Unfortunately, many news articles covering the issue have taken the tone of: “But she was so beautiful, and popular..” but he was “so popular, and was just made captain.” It reminds me of the psychological phenomena I learned through several of my psychology courses: the “Beautiful is good” hypothesis and the “Halo effect,” the former being the assumption that physically attractive people have superior personalities and the latter being the assumption that how someone appears on the outside must reflect their inner qualities. I am not saying that both Madison and Owen were not smart, funny, talented, and well-liked, but rather that it would be impossible to know this from seeing only a picture. We are taught, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “Success does not equal happiness.” We must look past a person’s exterior to uncover the beauty within and we are often surprised that what is inside is even more beautiful.

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