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Loyola researcher casts doubt on claims that football causes CTE.


n August 2013, the NFL settled a lawsuit brought against it by former players who al- leged that playing football led to Alzheim-

er’s disease and other neurological disorders. The media and some researchers have claimed that the disorders result from a syndrome called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—a brain disorder caused by repeated concussions and head trauma that occur in sports. Despite the settlement, Loyola neuropsy-

chologist Christopher Randolph, PhD, doesn’t believe that CTE exists. In his latest study, Ran-

Christopher Randolph, PhD

dolph, a professor at the Stritch School of Medicine and the former team neuro- psychologist for the Chicago Bears, screened hundreds of former NFL players for cognitive disorders. About 35 percent, a notable amount,

reported subjective concerns about cognitive impairment. Randolph conducted further test- ing of 41 of the players who did show cognitive impairment, and compared them to a control group of non-athletes with similar complaints . He found no significant difference in the pat- terns of cognitive deficits between the two groups, both of which met criteria for a diagno- sis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This means, according to Randolph, that there

does not appear to be a distinct affliction, such as CTE, that affects former football players. In fact, he says there is no solid definition of CTE agreed upon by neuropathologists, and there are absolutely no clinical diagnostic criteria, so CTE cannot be diagnosed in a living individual. Some proponents of CTE, according to

Randolph, characterize it as a neurodegenera- tive disease, leading to, among other things, a

high likelihood of suicide. But, in fact, he says, “The all-cause mortality rates of NFL retirees are only half those of men their age in the general population, and the suicide rates of NFL retirees are even lower. Retired NFL players as a group appear to be physically and mentally healthier than the general population of men their age.”

Randolph recently participated in a public

debate with Robert Stern, PhD, of Boston Col- lege, a leading proponent of the theory that sports concussions cause CTE. Stern argued that the accumulation in the brain of a protein called tau, which has been found in the brains of former football players who committed

“The proponents of CTE strike me as being unjustifiably alarmist.”

— CHRISTOPHER RANDOLPH, PhD Professor of Neuropsychology


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