Will Football's Brain Injury Problems Extend to College and Younger?

By Noah Davis 

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In April, a University of Pennsylvania football player killed himself. Doctors at Boston University examined Owen Thomas’ brain and found early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, “a disease linked to depression and impulse control primarily among N.F.L. players, two of whom also committed suicide in the last 10 years.”

Owen Thomas had no previous history of depression and while doctors warned against blaming C.T.E. for his suicide, they acknowledged it could have a role.

More concerning is the player’s age – he’s “youngest and first amateur football player to be found with clear C.T.E.: – and the fact that he didn’t have a history of concussions. According to the NYT:

Thomas never had a diagnosis of a concussion on or off the football field or even complained of a headache, his parents said, although they acknowledged he was the kind of player who might have ignored the symptoms to stay on the field. Because of this, several doctors said, his C.T.E. – whose only known cause is repetitive brain trauma – must have developed from concussions he dismissed or from the thousands of subconcussive collisions he withstood in his dozen years of football, most of them while his brain was developing.

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out in the media.

Concussions are increasingly a problem for the NFL. The medical condition came into the national spotlight last year when GQ‘s Jeanne Marie Laskas wrote a scathing piece about the subject and the league’s attempts to quiet the growing concern from the medical community.

That article, along with increased awareness, forced the NFL to take the issue of head injuries – specifically concussions – more seriously. Players now have to be cleared by an independent doctor, but there are still difficulties with diagnosing them immediately.

These new revelations, however, could seriously alter procedures, not just for the NFL but for all football. If more young players develop C.T.E., people are going to begin questioning whether they want their child to play football. As the sport gets bigger, faster, stronger, it might be difficult to keep everyone safe.