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Mater Dei High School is a football powerhouse, with two national championships and nine California state titles.
The scientists describe these symptoms as “neural precursors,” warning signs that something in the head has gone seriously wrong.
This research builds on previous work documenting the hazards of football for the teenage brain. There is no bodily metaphor for what happens when the Jell-O of cortex accelerates into the skull.
Another disturbing clue comes from the initial results of an autopsy analysis led by Ann Mc Kee at Boston University.
Over the last five years, she has autopsied the brains of fifteen former players who suffered from various mental conditions, including memory loss and depression. Although Mc Kee has only studied a single teenage brain, she found that brain damage was already detectable, with the multiple-concussed 18-year-old football player showing irreversible signs of CTE in parts of the frontal cortex.
(The latest guidelines suggest that most concussed subjects require at least 10 days to recover, with adolescents generally needing a few days more.) While the brain is restoring itself, people suffer from a long list of side effects, which are intended to keep them from thinking too hard.
Bright lights are painful; memory is fragile and full of holes; focus is impossible. In the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury, the brain remains extremely fragile. Teenagers are especially susceptible to these mass cellular suicides.
" Although CTE is often clinically indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s — patients suffer from memory loss, mood disorders, and depression — this degenerative illness has a very different cause. It is what happens when the brain is smashed into the skull again and again. However, there is disturbing evidence that CTE is occurring among players at rates many times higher than normal.
For instance, a 2009 study commissioned by the NFL found that former players between the ages of 30 and 49 were being diagnosed with severe memory-related diseases at approximately nineteen times the rate of the general population.
The stadiums will still be full on Sunday, the professionals will still play, the profits will continue. The sickness will be rooted in football’s tragic flaw, which is that it inflicts concussions on its players with devastating frequency.
Although estimates vary, several studies suggest that up to 15 percent of football players suffer a mild traumatic brain injury during the season.