CTE study puts spotlight on football safety in WNY

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Two days before the Buffalo Bills start training camp and as high school teams gear up for a new season, a new report highlights the potential health risks connected to football.

Boston University researchers released a study about the neuro degenerative disease, CTE, among athletes.

They looked at the brains of about 200 deceased former football players and found about 87 percent had CTE. Most notably, 110 out of 111 ex-NFL players had the disease.

The brains were donated by families of athletes who feared they had CTE based on symptoms like memory loss, impulsiveness, and even suicidal thoughts.

“The public has to realize this is a very select group of retired players or ex-players and while someone who plays football may be at risk for this, not everybody is and probably most are not,” said Dr. John Leddy, the medical director of UB’s Concussion Management Clinic.

He said the study shows there is a problem but doesn’t prove football causes CTE.

Dr. Leddy told News 4 researchers need to investigate whether people have CTE risk factors, whether or not they play a sport.

“There may be some people for which playing football is not good,” said Dr. Leddy.

That will be difficult to prove, he said, because there is currently no way to test players for the disease while they’re still alive.

Dr. Leddy told News 4 answering those questions will take years and probably decades.

”Their findings can suggest there’s a problem but do not prove it, and suggest that it’s probably an issue for a certain group of people who play contact sports but we don’t know who they are,” said Dr. Leddy. “We don’t know their level of risk and we don’t know how many ex-football players have findings of CTE in their brain and have no symptoms.”

Sixty-six years old was the median age of death for the individuals whose brains were studied.

Football has changed a lot since many of those athletes were playing the sport.

Canisius High School Football Coach Rich Robbins told News 4 the attention to concussions has resulted in fewer kids trying out for football.

He said his athletes play without pads or helmets at the beginning of the season in order to learn to tackle safely.

“Leading with your shoulders and using proper technique to make sure you’re keeping your head out of the collision part of it,” he described. “It really involves your shoulder and wrapping up around the legs and really keeping their head out of the game.”

He said in the past 10 years, the referees have started calling more penalties for head-to-head hits. Helmets are also improving with more space between the padding and exterior, and what Robbins described as “pillows of air” as padding, which can be pumped up or let out depending on the shape of the player’s head who’s wearing it.

“Our primary goal is the safety of the young men,” said Robbins.

He told News 4 all athletes take a baseline cognitive test on the computer before they hit the field, which asks memory and identification questions.

If a player takes a hit in the game, the test helps determine if the athlete can return to the field.

“If a kid is even looking a little wobbly, or even a little headache, or anything we put them right into concussion protocol where maybe years ago a kid might go back to practice,” said Robbins.

He said before a player can be cleared to go back on the field, he has to go for a jog, run on the treadmill and go through non-contact practices first.

Dr. Leddy is conducting a concussion study for young athletes. If your child sustains a head injury on the field call (716)-204-3200 for an appointment.

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