News FocusNeuropathology

A Late Hit for Pro Football Players

Science  07 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5941, pp. 670-672
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_670

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Last year, the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes research on sports-related head injuries, announced the formation of a new research center in partnership with the Boston University School of Medicine to study neuropsychiatric symptoms in athletes and to examine donated brains for signs of pathology. So far, the Boston group and other researchers working independently say they have found such signs in a total of 12 former players in the National Football League (NFL), plus at least four wrestlers and one soccer player, many of whom died in their 40s. Only one postmortem exam of an NFL player has so far turned up negative: that of Damien Nash, a running back for the Denver Broncos, who died at age 24. Although the number of cases is still very small, and most have yet to be published in peer-reviewed journals, the researchers insist their preliminary findings are cause for concern because this type of brain pathology is virtually unheard of in people this young. If they can prove their case, sports leagues like the NFL will likely face more pressure to protect athletes on the field and take care of them after they retire, and parents and coaches will face troubling questions about the long-term hazards for younger athletes.