As if the NFL didn’t have enough problems. After the Deflategate embarrassment and the trailer for the new movie “Concussion’ put the league in a continually negative light, on Friday the PBS show ‘Frontline’ released a study that shows a total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players who have recently died tested positive for the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is at the center of the debate over concussions in football. The study comes from researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, who also show the disease present in 79 percent of all football players. The disease, which stems from repetitive trauma to the head, can lead to memory loss, depression and dementia.

In total, CTE in the brain tissue was found in 131 out of 165 individuals who played football either professionally, in college or in high school before their deaths. 40 percent of those tested were offensive and defensive linemen who come into contact with each other on every play of the game, which supports past research suggesting it’s the repeat, minor head trauma that occurs regularly in football which poses the greatest risk to players, instead of the sometimes violent collisions that are known to cause concussions.

The major caveat in testing, is that while brain scans can be used to identify signs of CTE in living players, the disease can only be definitively identified posthumously. As a result, many of the players who donated their brains for testing thought they had they disease while they were alive, which skews the population the researchers had to work with.

“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it,” said Dr. Ann McKee, who runs the lab as part of a collaboration between the VA and BU. “My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.”

The NFL has taken efforts to make the game safer, and ‘Frontline’ estimates that concussions have dropped between 28 and 35 percent since 2013, during which time the NFL came to an uncapped settlement with retired players who suffered concussions with retired players that started at $765 million. The forthcoming movie ‘Concussion,’ starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered the disease in 2002, is a dramatization of the events after his discovery, including the NFL attempts to discredit his work. While the line between Hollywood and truth will be hard to discern, the continuing problem will never be that football is a violent game, which is known to everyone who puts on a helmet and watches the game. It is what the NFL could have done to reduce this rate sooner if they weren’t so concerned with public relations, a problem we have seen blow up in their face repeatedly over the last few years.

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