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Brain damage to football players deeper than expected

Many college football players are showing signs of injury deep within portions of their brains.
Many college football players are showing signs of injury deep within portions of their brains.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

A new study has shown that college football players may be at more risk for brain injuries than previously suspected; including damage deep within parts of the brain that helps control thinking and emotions. This is especially true for those who began playing at a young age and incurred repeated concussion, although players who never had concussions may also be at risk, according to senior author Patrick Bellgowan, director of cognitive neuroscience at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, OK.

Previous studies have shown abnormalities in the brains of former NFL players as well as preventable deaths in younger athletes who remained on the football field despite taking violent hits. It was also noted that despite better protective gear, the players, themselves were becoming larger, more powerful and hitting their opponents faster and harder than ever before.

“Parents and coaches may think that once the symptoms are gone, the kids are ok, but that is not necessarily true. Even mild contact can cause permanent brain damage,” he noted.

In coming up with their conclusions, Bellgowen and his team compared high-resolution brain injuries for more than two dozen college football players with a history of concussion to an equal number of athletes who had never suffered traumatic brain injuries and matched them against the same number of non-players. They then tested each of the men’s cognitive function (at the same time taking into account the length of time each individual played football). To learn more, readers can check out Bellgowen’s full report in yesterday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).