A new study (pdf) of the donated brains of 85 football and hockey players and soldiers "clearly shows … there may be severe and devastating long-term consequences of repetitive brain trauma that has traditionally been considered only mild." The number of concussions suffered by football players and position played did not correlate with the severity of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Jonathan Mahler concludes::
[F]ootball doesn’t have a concussion problem. It has an existential one. … By framing football’s head-injury crisis as a concussion crisis, we have understated its severity. Our scope of concern should go beyond observable phenomena.
He addresses the Belcher murder-suicide:
I couldn’t help but notice … one of the first questions asked in the aftermath of the incident: Did he have a history of concussions? The answer, apparently, is no. The question itself is as good as meaningless.
Meanwhile, Lindsay Abrams calls attention to the research of Dr. Paul Echlin, who found similar trends in the neurological impact of mild head trauma:
The team also found that once players sustain a concussion, they're more susceptible to future incidents. Even if they seem like they're able to "shake off" one minor head injury, it's a quick progression to the compounding problem identified by the researchers [in the aforementioned study]. After every concussion, said Echlin, players need time and space to recover — and this includes time off from school for cognitive recovery.
Abrams highlights why, despite state laws requiring coaches to sideline young athletes suspected of being concussed, public awareness of the low threshold for brain damage risk is still critical:
Echlin argues that no real changes are going to be seen until we change the underlying culture of contact sports. It's certainly not going to come from people entrenched in the culture, he added, like Peyton Manning, who provides simple instructions for how to cheat the concussion test in order to stay in the game. "I don't think anybody really knows the risks at this time. We're just trying to find it out medically. And we know that there's been so much cover-up," said Echlin.