Vince is a technical writer working in the medical research field. He also enjoys exploring literature in his free time.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
The New York Times ran an article this month about a former hockey player, Jeff Parker, who died recently. Parker lived with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which he is believed to have sustained during his time playing in the National Hockey League. The article highlights his life and his family’s struggle to support him, but it is just one part of a longer series the Times has been doing on CTE as more and more information has been coming out about this poorly understood condition (Branch, 2018).
CTE is caused by ongoing injuries to the brain caused by repeated head blows. It has been linked to jerking or twisting of the head and neck, which means that helmets do little to protect against the condition. Many sports players who wear helmets, still find themselves at risk due to the constant jostling of their heads that occur during impacts. CTE does not necessarily present at the time of injury and can develop slowly over time from repeated blows to the head that do not even qualify as minor concussions (Mez, Daneshvar, & Kiernan, 2017).
A widely publicized study by Mez, Daneshvar, and Kiernan (2017) brought national attention to the condition. In it, 99 percent of the brains studied from football players who donated their bodies to science were found to have signs of CTE. This is a condition that can affect anyone of any population who plays high impact sports or who for any reason experiences repeated blows to or jerking of the head. Part of the reason the problem is believed to be so prevalent is due to how poorly it is understood and how recently all this information has come to light.
The article by Branch (2018) is titled “The Tragic Diagnosis They Already Knew: Their Brother Died With C.T.E.” This is not sensationalist and accurately reflects the content. The article takes a snapshot perspective of one family’s struggle with CTE and how it affected one athlete’s life. It does reference the other articles they have run on the issue and hints at the fact that it is a wider spread problem that is especially dangerous for child and teenage athletes whose brains are still developing.
Policy and Change
There are no official policies that relate to improving this condition. Rather, it is the culture of the country and ignorance about the CTE that has made it so prevalent. People enjoy sports as a pastime, and it is difficult to hear that something they love would have to forever change in order to avoid this hidden illness. Stakeholders are prominent investors in major league sports who wish to please fans but also want to avoid public backlash, players themselves, and local schools who have sports programs. Parents of youth players would of course need a voice in addressing this issue. Unfortunately, the only known intervention seems to be to avoid head trauma that is repeated over time.
The New York Times has been continually informing the public about this health matter that affects much of the population in direct and indirect ways. It is going to take large scale change to improve this matter and people are going to have to be educated and want that change to occur. Snapshot pieces like Branch (2018) help the general public see this situation in personal terms and to put themselves in the shoes of people affected by this condition.
Branch, J. (2018). The tragic diagnosis they already knew: Their brother died with C.T.E. The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2018 from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/sports/nhl-cte-jeff-parker.html
Mez J., Daneshvar D. H., Kiernan P. T., et al. (2017). Clinicopathological evaluation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in players of american football. JAMA, 318(4), 360–370. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.8334
© 2018 Vince
Vince (author) from New York CIty on July 18, 2018:
Thank you. And I definitely think something needs to change with regards to juvenile sports in light of this new information. It may be difficult for some people who see football as an enjoyable part of their culture, but there are many things through the course of history that had to change once people realized how harmful they were.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 13, 2018:
CTE certainly has been underdiagnosed. Obviously boxing is known for head traumas, but there are many rough sports. I know football teams have been wearing safer helmets but apparently that doesn't always help as you pointed out. This is a good article to bring attention to this problem. Parents may rethink letting theit children play football.