How Damaged Are NFL Players’ Brains?

By Virginia Hughes, April 16, 2013, The New Yorker

In November of 2010, a few dozen retired players from the National Football League gathered with their wives in a large living room. Snacking on appetizers and soft drinks, they listened to an informal pitch by John Hart, Jr., a neurologist at the University of Texas at Dallas. He wanted to scan their brains.

Since that first meeting, Hart’s team has recruited more than fifty former N.F.L. players for an ongoing study tracking their brain connections and mental health. The scientists’ latest batch of data, presented at a meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in San Francisco on April 15th, shows that retired N.F.L. players are more likely to have memory problems and depression than non-athletes of the same age, and that these deficits may stem from damage in certain bundles of white matter in the brain. But the researchers were more surprised by what the study didn’t show: nearly sixty per cent of the group had no mood issues, cognitive disability, or irregular brain patterns.

Hart’s is one of several studies released in the past few years looking at the neurological consequences of head trauma in collegiate and professional athletes. This research has already influenced athletic policies and treatment guidelines, and it may soon play a starring role in court.

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