In American society, NFL football players are among the most revered by young boys for their toughness, speed and overall skill on the field. For many, this admiration translated into those boys wanting to be just like the athletes they admire. However, there is a consequence that comes from playing football that the players don’t generally plan for: brain injuries.

Most of the brain injuries that happen to football players are not like those that may happen to someone involved in a car accident or other catastrophic event. These injuries happen over time and are often not discovered until a player’s career is long over. The most common brain injury that occurs is Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) which is a degenerative disease that happens to those who have had multiple concussions and other head injuries.

CTE is a common condition not only with football players, but also with other athletes that play contact sports such as ice hockey and members of the military who have been exposed to blasts.

Although those with CTE display symptoms of depression, confusion, and dementia, a true diagnosis is not made until after death. A recent research effort at Boston University studied 85 brains of deceased athletes and veterans who had suffered repeated head trauma. CTE was discovered in 68 of those brains. While half of those were professional football players, there were also several that only played college or high school ball.

The revelation of just how common brain injuries are in football players sheds some light on the history of suicide by former NFL players. Two players committed suicide in 2006, there were two more cases between 2010 and 2012, and in a recent case where an NFL player killed his girlfriend and then himself CTE was discovered in his brain after his death.

While everyone knows there are risks involved in playing contact sports, few had expected that long term brain injury would be so common.

Source: ABC News, “CTE, a Degenerative Brain Disease, Found in 34 Pro Football Players,” Sydney Lupkin, December 3, 2012