Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known more commonly as CTE, is a degenerative brain disease commonly found in individuals who have suffered repetitive blows to the head. CTE is most often present in boxers, military veterans and—perhaps most famously—NFL athletes.
To help further understand the causes of CTE and other trauma-based brain conditions, as well as how these diseases could be treated, 30 former NFL players have pledged their brains to be used for research after their death. The announcement comes at a time when an estimated 40 percent of ex-players suffer from brain injuries, according to the American Academy of Neurology.
As a sport heavily so rooted in physical contact, professional football has long had a problem with concussions and other head injuries—a problem that is still highly prevalent despite a number of rule changes meant to decrease the occurrence head-to-head collisions. Because of this, some of the NFL’s most famous athletes were found to have suffered from CTE, including Hall of Famers Frank Gilford, Mike Webster and Junior Seau.
The nature of CTE diagnosis makes these donations especially important, as it is impossible to definitively determine if someone suffered from the disease without performing an autopsy.
Among those donating their brains are former Pro Bowlers Randy Cross, Keith Sims and Shawn Springs, as well as Mel Farr Jr., whose father—Detroit Lions running back Mel Farr Sr.—was found to have suffered from severe CTE after he died in 2015.
The announcement comes less than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to review a previously approved lawsuit between the NFL and former players. The court’s decision means that the league will be on the hook for as much as $1 billion, most of which will be granted to ex-players suffering from a wide range of debilitating conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
However, in its current form, the settlement excludes claims by some players that the ruling leaves out players suffering from CTE.