NFL-Boston University Partnership May Be A Great Christmas Present for Dementia
Now for a piece of good news this Christmas: as part of a partnership, the National Football League (NFL) will encourage current and former NFL players to agree to donate their brains to the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. This Christmas present – the formation of this partnership – is somewhat amazing since the Boston University researchers have consistently been critical on the NFL’s stance concerning player’s concussions. The lead paragraph of a story by New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz puts this announcement into perspective: “After weeks of transforming its approach to concussions and its research into their long-term effects among players, the N.F.L. not only announced suddenly that it would support research by its most vocal critics but also conceded publicly for the first time that concussions can have lasting consequences.”
I have been following this story for awhile, having been interested in football since I grew up in football-crazed West Texas. In 2007, I had posted an initial New York Times story that raised a warning sign about dementia and the concussions suffered by NFL players and then wrote about later concerns in a sharepost last October. These pieces not only shared the growing concerns, but also illustrated the evolution of the NFL’s willingness to accept that the sport might be causing long-lasting damage to its players.
What’s the impact of the NFL’s new partnership with Boston University? "It's huge that the NFL actively gets behind this research," Robert Cantu, the co-director of the school's research program, told the AP (as reported in the Washington Post). "It forwards the research. It allows players to realize the NFL is concerned about the possibility that they could have this problem and that the NFL is doing everything it can to find out about the risks and the preventive strategies that can be implemented.” In addition, the NFL is donating at least $1 million to the center. This partnership has developed after the NFL suspended its two-year-old study focused on the long-term effects of concussions in former players.
Besides their findings concerning football players, the Boston University researchers also has reported links between head trauma and brain damage in boxers and hockey players.
This partnership also could lead to important findings that can assist another group struggling with the impact of concussions – young girls who play sports. Another recent Washington Post story reported on 16-year-old Niki Popyer, who asked Congress to back legislation calling on the federal government to develop concussion management guidelines. Popyer was forced to give up playing basketball after suffering multiple concussions. Popyer suffered her first concussion in a seventh grade basketball game after hitting her head on the floor while diving for a loose ball. Her early concussions were not diagnosed until a neurologist finally reviewed her injuries. Popyer said seven of her 11 concussions were determined as being sports-related, and that she's become more concussion-prone in recent years. She described how she has suffered from severe headaches, some of which made her dizzy, nauseous, and sensitive to light and sound. Another girl – a thirteen-year-old – also had to drop out of sports due to a concussion.
Needless to say, I’m happy that the NFL has taken this step to pull its head out of the sand and to begin to understand the impact that football may be having on its players. The results of this partnership with Boston University may be widely felt and may influence other high-impact sports, such as boxing and hockey. And hopefully, this focus on understanding the concussions caused by these and other sports and then determining how to prevent brain damage can also make a difference through the development guidelines for the young athletes who are playing sports at the collegiate and lower levels. Hopefully, this partnership will eventually make a big difference for athletes young and old. In my mind, that’s a great Christmas present!