A former athlete struggles to remember why he’s on a plane, and it is not because of natural aging. Tony Dorsett once played for the Dallas Cowboys, but now he is showing signs of a brain disease that is affecting professional athletes all over the country.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disease commonly found in athletes who endure heavy physical contact. In recent years, researchers spent resources to discover more about the disease plaguing former professional athletes. The growing knowledge of the danger has impacted numerous athletes who never reached the professional level.
Players who have CTE may have memory loss, depression and dementia. Although these are possible signs, doctors cannot be sure someone has CTE until they do an autopsy. Once someone passes away, doctors look at a piece of brain tissue and decide whether he or she had the disease, according to the concussion foundation.
Professional athletes are not the only people to develop CTE. Military veterans or individuals with a history of repetitive brain trauma may also develop CTE, according to the Concussion Foundation.
There is some push back from the scientists and researchers as to whether CTE is as common as some people think. A.J. Russo, a writer for the Baltimore Sun, argued that the data published in a study conducted by Dr. Jesse Metz was biased. In the study, Dr. Mez reported that 110 out of 111 football players had CTE.
“Those studied were picked by the scientists from families who indicated that the individuals whose brains were donated had cognitive, mood or dementia problems,” Russo said. Russo argued that no control group was used and therefore bias was present.
“I am not, by any means, arguing that CTE is not associated with multiple concussions or sub concussive blows to the head,” Russo said.
Todd Bowden, the associate professor of kinesiology at JBU, said that CTE has been around for years, but researches have only begun to understand it recently. This means that athletes on all levels have had changes to treatments for concussions.
At JBU there is a strict protocol to follow when an athlete develops a concussion. Bowden said every athlete takes a baseline test known as IMPACT as a freshman.
“The idea is their rested, healthy brains do this computer test and then if they have a concussed event, after that, then we can kind of start using that as a tool to compare it to where they were beforehand. But that’s just one tool that we use to try to see if somebody’s healthy enough to go back and play,” Bowden said.
Before athletes play at a collegiate level, they have preventive tactics to keep them safe. Jon Schultz played football in high school and he said helmet-to-helmet contact was not allowed in the league.
Schultz said his coaches taught them how to tackle safely. At first it was always head down and tackle someone,” he said. “But they were teaching us to keep our head up and put our face masks into their chest and pushing them down, instead of spear heading because that’s really bad for your back and head.”
Playing safely with other athletes is an important part of sports with heavy physical contact. However, just because someone accumulated numerous concussions does not mean they will have this serious brain disease.
“Not everyone who has a concussion is going to have CTE,” Bowden said. “We take concussions much more seriously today than we did ten years ago.”