In July, a Journal of the American Medical Association report that the brains of 110 of 111 deceased NFL players showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — an incurable condition that leads to dementia, mental instability and depression — made national headlines. But what should have gotten more attention was the finding that the brains of 48 of 53 deceased college football players showed CTE. There are more than 750 colleges with football programs versus 30 NFL teams.
The AMA report needs to be considered in context. Families are far more likely to seek autopsies of the brains of former players who showed CTE symptoms, so it is unlikely that more than 90 percent of those who played college football will end up with CTE. But with the college football bowl season getting under way, it’s worth noting that that the NCAA doesn’t have nearly as strict rules about dealing with concussions as the NFL. In an August interview with The Indianapolis Star, NCAA President Mark Emmert said it was “up to schools” to do the right things by their football players.
Given that the NCAA faces more than 40 class-action lawsuits over football concussions, this light regulation is hard to fathom. The NCAA makes billions of dollars off of tens of thousands of unpaid college football players. It should do far more to protect them against brain damage.