You don’t have to be Chris Harvard to know a brain-rattling career playing football might lead to significant quality-of-life issues further down the road. But when the NFL has steadfastly denied a correlation between their high-impact, contact sport and brain dysfunction, it’s an awfully big deal when a new study commissioned by the league reportedly shows former players are far more susceptible to Alzheimer’s than the rest of the population. All the more reason for John Kitna (above) to never retire, then.
From the New York Times’ Allan Schwartz, who’s been doggedly pursuing this story for the last few years.

œThis is a game-changer ” the whole debate, the ball™s now in the N.F.L.™s court, said Dr. Julian Bailes, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, and a former team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose research found similar links four years ago. œThey always say, ˜We™re going to do our own studies.™ And now they have.

Sean Morey, an Arizona Cardinals player who has been vocal in supporting research in this area, said: œThis is about more than us ” it™s about the high school kid in 2011 who might not die on the field because he ignored the risks of concussions.

All rates appear small. But if they are accurate, they would have arresting real-life effects when applied across a population as large as living N.F.L. retirees. A normal rate of cognitive disease among N.F.L. retirees age 50 and above (of whom there are about 4,000) would result in 48 of them having the condition; the rate in the Michigan study would lead to 244. Among retirees ages 30 through 49 (of whom there are about 3,000), the normal rate cited by the Michigan researchers would yield about 3 men experiencing problems; the rate reported among N.F.L. retirees leads to an estimate of 57.

So the Michigan findings suggest that although 50 N.F.L. retirees would be expected to have dementia or memory-related disease, the actual number could be more like 300. This would not prove causation in any individual case, but it would support a connection between pro football careers and heightened prevalence of later-life cognitive decline that the league has long disputed.

The Michigan researchers found that 6.1 percent of players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis, five times higher than the cited national average, 1.2 percent. Players ages 30 through 49 showed a rate of 1.9 percent, or 19 times that of the national average, 0.1 percent.