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High School and College Athletes Affected by CTE

The Stanford Daily has reported that Former Stanford football player David Burns ’76 has filed a class action lawsuit seeking damages for the alleged disregard of the health and safety of former Stanford football players.

The suit names the University, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) as defendants and covers Stanford football players active between 1959 and 2010. The suits allege that private universities, the NCAA and regional athletic conferences knew or should have known of the danger concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) pose, but neglected to either inform student-athletes or adopt adequate concussion management protocols.

This is only one of 15 lawsuits that have been filed in recent weeks against colleges and athletic conferences on behalf of college football players. In 2014, the NCAA reached a settlement that changed association guidelines regarding management of concussions and provided $75 million for medical monitoring and research. In 2015, the National Football League (NFL) reached a one-billion-dollar concussion settlement with thousands of former players for failing to warn players and for hiding the dangers of brain injury.

Sadly, this also affects high school students. Boston University’s CTE Center reviewed the death case of an 18-year-old multi-sport athlete who suffered multiple concussions in high school football and revealed the earliest evidence of CTE ever recorded.

Since the 1920’s, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been known to affect boxers (punch drunk syndrome) and was referred to as dementia pugilistica. However, recent reports have confirmed CTE is affecting professional football players and other athletes. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease which afflicts the brain of people who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries, such as athletes who take part in contact sports, members of the military and others.

This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.

CTE symptoms can be debilitating and can have life-changing effects for the individual affected and their family. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, paranoia, impulse control problems, erratic behavior, aggression, depression, and, eventually progressive dementia.

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed after death by brain tissue analysis. More than 50 former NFL players, including Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, have been posthumously diagnosed with the disease. In some instances, individual affected by the degenerative brain disease like Junior Seau and professional wrestler Chris Benoit, have committed suicide. Some have left suicide notes requesting their brains be donated for research, which later confirmed they suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.

Our children are now starting back to school and football season is upon us. Everyone loves football and we are well aware that football players and other athletes assume some risk while playing sports. However, it is important that we also know that our children’s trainers and team physicians have a duty to protect our athletes. There is no treatment for the progressive, degenerative brain disease. The current approach is brain injury prevention. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation concussion safety starts with smart policy. On their website they have identified 10 critical items that academic and athletic organizations must address when implementing concussion safety protocols including education, prevention, remove from play, return to life, return to school, return to play medical infrastructure, equipment, rules and penalties and playing area and surfaces.

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