NFL players three times more likely to die from brain damage, new study finds

The study links pro football and brain damage.
The study links pro football and brain damage.

SEE ALSO: Derek Boogaard concussion: Did season-ending injury play a role in enforcer's untimely death?

A new study published by the Minneapolis-based American Academy of Neurology finds that NFL players are at a higher risk of death from brain damage.

That'll come as little surprise to those who have followed football's concussion crisis in recent years, but the new study, entitled "NFL Players May Be at Higher Risk of Death from Alzheimer's and ALS," provides rigorous scientific evidence that full-contact football can indeed serve as a cause of death years after players hang up their cleats.

From a summary of the study's findings:

The study included 3,439 players with an average age of 57 from the National Football League with at least five playing seasons from 1959-1988. Researchers reviewed death certificates for causes of death from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and ALS. At the time of the analysis, only 10 percent of the participants had passed away.

The research found that professional football players in this study were three times more likely to die as a result of diseases that damage brain cells compared to the general population. A player's risk of death from Alzheimer's disease or ALS was almost four times higher than the general population. Of the 334 who died, seven had Alzheimer's disease and seven had ALS. The risk of dying from Parkinson's disease was not significantly different than that of the general population.

To determine if these risks differed by position played, researchers divided the players into two groups: those who played non-line ("speed") positions which included quarterbacks, running backs, halfbacks, fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, defensive backs, safeties and linebackers, and those who played line ("non-speed") positions, which included defensive and offensive linemen. Speed position players were more than three times more likely to die from a neurodegenerative cause than non-speed position players. A total of 62 percent of the players were in speed positions.

Today, the NFL announced a $30 million donation to the National Institutes of Health. The donation, the largest in NFL history, will be used for brain injury research.

According to the Washington Post, 266 players suffered concussions during the 2011 NFL season. That number was barely changed from the 270 suffered the season prior. One notable component of the NFL's effort to reduce concussions was a 2011 change in the kickoff rule that increased the number of touchbacks, thereby decreasing the number of collisions during that play. But it doesn't appear the rule did much to cut down on the total season-to-season number of brain injuries.

Legal culpability for ex-players suffering from post-concussion maladies remains a grey area. The AP reports that nearly 3,400 former players have sued the league over concussions, but the NFL maintains that the issue is one that should be resolved by the league's collective bargaining process, not the courts. A federal judge in Philadelphia hasn't yet responded to the league's requests to throw out some of the cases.

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