There is a story that has been inevitable that could change the world of contact sports as we know it.
It is inevitable that within a few years there will be a test for CTE on those living. Sports like football, hockey, boxing, MMA and pro wrestling will then be in for a huge problem.
And the big problem is we donít know what CTE means other than there are tau proteins that show in the brain. Itís been used as a buzz word for people like Mike Webster, Junior Seau, Chris Benoit and most recently Aaron Hernandez who have had bizarre ends of their lives. But for every one like that, there are dozens of people who have been diagnosed with CTE who may not have had any serious problems. And thatís the issue.
The problem for all those sports is that when there is a test, once you are tested and confirmed as having CTE, the inevitability is that your career will be over. When it comes to almost all sports, this would lead to shortened careers. There will be those in college not allowed to go into pro football, and Iím relatively sure long pro football careers will be extinct. Or they will have to totally restructure the rules and change the sport, and it will be hard to justify football at the youth, high school and college level. And high school and college football are such huge parts of our society that they arenít going to go away without a huge fight.
In boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA and other fighting style sports where head blows are legal, they will either have to change the sport when it comes to blows to the head, and with that, a great aspect of their popularity will be gone.
Pro wrestling has the best chance of survival, although it will also have to change to a safer sport, which is a good thing, but also could decrease its marketability.
And the problem is that we donít fully know what causes CTE. Is it caused by concussions, or hard blows to the head, or is caused by jarring of the body that shakes the head, in which case every single bump in pro wrestling may be a culprit.
Researchers from Boston Universityís CTE Center announced on 9/26 that they may have found a way to detect CTE in living patients. We had been told this was close to happening not too many months ago.
A significant percentage of college football players who passed away young have been diagnosed after death with CTE. Nearly every former NFL player who had donated their brains to be tested ended up being found with CTE. These stories have also made recent headlines, but the unanswered and key questions are this. Players who have had memory issues or headaches or feel that their lives have changed in some way and are concerned about it are the ones most likely to either themselves or families who watched this happen, donate their brains to be tested. So the percentage issue of what we know can be misleading. And also, does having CTE guarantee problems, or is it that everyone who had problems also has CTE? To get those answers we are going to need long running studies done. For example, even with the CTE scare, the reality is that long-term studies of European rugby players have shown no signs of brain deterioration as compared to the general public. NFL players, for all the talk of CTE leading to depression and suicides, still commit suicide at a lesser level than the public at large, but because they are celebrities and CTE is such a story, every time there is a suicide of a former player, it gets tied into the story. You have to go with percentages and these are issues that are going to take many decades to really get a handle on, but the reality is the snap judgment reactions are going to be used in what will be a political issue.
What if tests show that the majority of NFL players after one season have signs of CTE, or that most pro wrestlers who have done more than 300 matches have it, or that most fighters after seven fights, and Iím just throwing a number out there, start showing signs? Even if itís not enough to actually cause long-term damage if thatís what studies decades down the line would indicate, when these tests are out, people are going to have to stop using people whose brains show any signs of CTE. All of these industries will have to be greatly revamped, because decades before the long-term studies that are needed can be completed, the public and just the threats of lawsuits and the like will demand these athletes leave their sport at the first sign of any issues showing up.
One of the things with the very different Evoke Neuroscience eVox test, the one that at the time confirmed the already decided upon end of the career of Bryan Danielson, at least in WWE, is that we donít know what would happen if every NFL player, every WWE performer or every fighter used that test. We do know the test is used somewhat in MMA, and the results have usually just been delaying people returning to sparring until their tests show they are back to what is normal for them.
The Boston University School of Medicine said that it examined the brains of 23 former college and pro football players, and compared them to the brains of 50 non-athletes who have Alzheimerís Disease, and another 18 non-athletes with no known brain issues.
They found that a certain biomarker, CCL11 levels, were normal in both the non-athletes and the group that never did sports but did have Alzheimerís. Those levels were significantly elevated in examining the brains of people who were diagnosed with CTE after their death. They also found those levels were also higher in football players. But at this point more studies are going to have to be made to find out if this is a breakthrough, or just something coincidental.
Dr. Ann McKee, the Director of Boston Universityís CTE Center and chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Heathcare system did note a positive in this, in that once doctors are able to successfully diagnose CTE in living individuals, they were also be on the road to coming up with treatments that can possibly reverse the problems, such as some, like Bryan Danielson, have been experimenting with such as the use of Hyperbaric chamber treatments.