ABC Australia: Study finds evidence of degenerative brain disease in nearly all former football players examined
Watching Ryan Freel play defense on a baseball field has been likened to “watching crash dummies in a seat belt test” and “bungee-jumping without the bungee.”
In Cincinnati, where he spent most of his eight seasons in the big leagues, Freel’s No. 6 jersey became synonymous to fans, teammates and opponents with playing the game the right way. That meant crashing into walls, sliding headfirst, jumping and diving to get to the ball, doing whatever was needed to make the play. The constant headaches, blurry vision and spotty memory were there, too. But that was baseball for Freel.
In January 2013, Freel’s number switched to VABT-13144. He was no longer described as a 5-foot-10, 185-pound utility man. Instead, the VA Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusetts, labeled his specimen type as “fixed brain fragments.”
As the NFL nears an end to its long-running legal battle over concussions, new data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined.
The findings represent a more than twofold increase in the number of cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, that have been reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Bedford, Mass. Researchers there have now examined the brain tissue of 128 football players who, before their deaths, played the game professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school. Of that sample, 101 players, or just under 80 percent, tested positive for CTE.
Bellini, the Brazilian soccer star who won the 1958 World Cup and was honored with a statue outside the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, has been found to have had the degenerative brain disease linked to dozens of boxers and American football players when he died in March at age 83.
At the time, his death was attributed to complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. But researchers now say he had an advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., which is caused by repeated blows to the head and has symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s.
C.T.E. can be diagnosed only posthumously, and few brains of former soccer players have been examined. Bellini is the second known case, according to Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University and the Bedford Veterans Administration Medical Center, who was brought in to assist in examining Bellini’s brain. McKee was also involved in a finding earlier this year when researchers found C.T.E. in the brain of a 29-year-old former soccer player from New Mexico who had played semiprofessionally.