The world’s largest biomedical research agency has officially recognized the causal link between contact sports and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Campaign groups have cited the move as a pivotal moment in the debate over the long-term health effects of contact sports.
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has rewritten its official guidance on the dangers of repeated headbutts, following a study published in July by Harvard University, Oxford Brookes University and 11 other academic institutions, and an analysis by the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
That report found “conclusive evidence” that the progressive brain disease can be linked to sub-concussive punches such as a header or a tackle. The authors called for “aggressive CTE mitigation programs, particularly for children.”
CTE is a form of dementia and can cause dramatic changes in mood, behavior, and cognition. It’s incurable.
Evidence of CTE has been found in athletes participating in football, American football, rugby union, ice hockey, lacrosse, mixed martial arts, wrestling and boxing. Several governing bodies, including the NFL, NHL, and NCAA, have previously denied a causal link.
“Sports governing bodies should not mislead the public about CTE causation while athletes are dying and families are being devastated by this terrible disease,” said lead author Dr. Chris Nowinski.
CTE was first discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu was discovered in the brain of Hall of Fame NFL player Mike Webster, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers between 1974 and 1988. In 2011, the NFL paid a group of players $1 billion in a class action lawsuit.
Boston University researchers have previously found evidence of CTE in 99 percent of the brains of former NFL players examined. Dozens of former NHL players have also been posthumously diagnosed with the disease.
Head injuries have also come under scrutiny in the NFL this season following the controversy surrounding Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered a severe concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this month after suffering a head injury against the Cincinnati Bengals four days earlier Buffalo Bills had suffered. The league’s concussion protocols were subsequently changed.
In football specifically, ball of the head has been linked to dementia, with a study showing that former Scottish footballers born between 1900 and 1976 were three and a half times more likely to have the disease as a cause of death.
In 2002, a coroner found Heading to be responsible for the death of former West Bromwich Albion forward Jeff Astle – and recorded the verdict of death from occupational disease. Five of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team were diagnosed with dementia and four died of the disease.
In July, the athlete announced that the FA should test header removal in all under-12 age groups. At the start of the 2021/22 season, the FA also introduced guidelines limiting professional players to 10 high-force headers in training per week.
Concussion substitutes were introduced in the Premier League in February 2021, allowing a player to be replaced with a suspected brain injury without the club suffering a numerical disadvantage.
But in June the athlete revealed the FA had no plans to follow rugby union in changing concussion laws to ensure players had a minimum break of 12 days despite pressure from the PFA.
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