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What is CTE? Is the NFL doing anything about it?

Conversations about CTE in Football are increasing as Demaryius Thomas becomes the latest to join a list of ex-NFL players who endured the brain disease.

Conversations about CTE in Football are increasing as Demaryius Thomas becomes the latest to join a list of ex-NFL players who endured the brain disease.
Mark TenallyAP

CTE, a progressive degenerative brain disease, is at the heart of an ongoing conversation about the safety of players and their risk of sustaining head injuries in American football and other aggressive sports.

Demaryius Thomas, who was found dead in his home in December, was the latest in a long list of former NFL players to receive a CTE diagnosis, which can only be made after the person’s death.

On Tuesday, the family of the former star wide receiver revealed that Thomas had stage 2 CTE at the time of his death, which explained his increasingly erratic behavior, memory loss, & paranoia in his last few months alive. Thomas was 33.

Related: What are the most famous CTE cases in NFL history?

Sadly, even though Boston University researchers diagnosed 99% of brains of former NFL players that were donated for study with CTE five years ago, this continues to happen today in contact sports.

What is CTE?

CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. According to Boston University’s CTE Research Center, which has taken on the lead of the research on the disease, the condition is generated from a history of repeated hits to the head. It can appear months or even years after the head injuries were sustained.

There are four stages of CTE. Stage 1 results in mild short-term memory loss and depressive symptoms, as per the National Institutes of Health website.

People with Stage 2 can have severe depressive symptoms and “behavioral outbursts,” according to the report. As for patients with stage 3 and 4, memory loss, poor spatial awareness and cognitive impairments become much harsher.

Stage 4 specifically is where the real damage is as patients start to lose motor skills, struggle with speech, and experience severe psychotic symptoms.

The most common sports where athletes have been diagnosed with CTE over the years are American Football, hockey and boxing. Our very own Paul Rudder explains how C.T.E. was first observed here.

What is the NFL’s role in the ongoing CTE problem?

The NFL has been mixed up in several head injury lawsuits over the past few years. In 2015, the league was required to compensate former players who suffered from brain trauma with an approved $1 billion settlement plan, as per the Associated Press.

In 2016, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the launch of an initiative to drive progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries. The $100 million ‘Play Smart. Play Safe’ action was meant to go towards enhancing medical protocols and improving the way the game is played and taught.

However, as we sit by and watch history repeat itself, it is clear that protocols don’t prevent brain damage. Some risks associated with concussions can be alleviated with taking the right precautions and wearing the right equipment, but at the end of the day, football is a dangerous sport. No procedure can eliminate the ruin it imposes.