ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — A survey of examinations on the brains of 202 former football players found a high proportion showing evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and it’s a fact not lost on NFL players.
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said he and other players understanding the evolving research into CTE and the impact of repetitive head trauma.
“We’re aware of it,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, it’s how much you want to know. We’re out here smashing each other with our heads. Of course that’s not normal and things do happen.”
The Boston University study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed brain samples from 111 NFL players. All but one sample showed evidence of CTE, a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head.
Johnson takes comfort that he has never sustained a diagnosed concussion, which he attributes to his tackling style.
“My style of tackle is a little different, so I don’t hit people in the head all the time, I cut them at the knees, so I’m safer that way,” Johnson said.
But recent research suggests concussive head trauma is not necessarily a key contributor to CTE. Instead, repetitive smaller impacts of non-violent impacts such as helmets hitting one another compound to cause long-term damage, according to researchers.
A study by Stanford researchers found a college lineman sustained 62 impacts in a single game that each delivered the impact one would receive from driving a car into a brick wall at 30 miles per hour.
CTE symptoms can include memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia. Research shows symptoms in NFL players can onset long after their careers have concluded.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he believes the NFL is taking CTE and the impact of brain trauma seriously.
“I know the study and what’s been put out there,” Reid said. “I can’t tell you how valid that study is. But I would tell that the league from their standpoint, they’ve attacked the issue. They surely haven’t walked away from it and shied it away from it.”
Several Chiefs players are testing a new helmet design during training camp to determine its impact on reducing head trauma. The league has also instituted new rules designed at limiting helmet-to-helmet hits and collisions with defensive players.
Johnson worries at times that the rule changes may contribute to other injuries instead.
“But then defensively, when they’re defenseless instead of getting a penalty you have to him them in the knees and they can be out,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of a hairy deal, but you got to work through it.”