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Doctors say link between repeated impacts and CTE is unproven

No.55 jersey seen on display at Qualcomm Stadium as part of "Celebration of Life" memorial, held in memory of Seau in San Dieg

A No.55 jersey is seen on display at Qualcomm Stadium as part of a “Celebration of Life” memorial, held in memory of former San Diego Chargers and NFL linebacker Junior Seau in San Diego, California May 11, 2012. Tens of thousands of fans are expected to attend Seau’s public memorial at the stadium on Friday, more than a week after the former National Football League star killed himself in his beachfront home. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL OBITUARY SOCIETY)


Doctors who have studied the brains of several deceased NFL players have diagnosed them with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. But a new study says that a link between CTE and repeated impacts in football and other contact sports has not been proven.

A panel of experts who studied all of the available evidence recently released a statement that “the speculation that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE remains unproven.”

The suicides of former NFL players Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling, and the subsequent findings of CTE when researchers examined their brains, have led to widespread concerns that collisions on the football field are leading to depression and other health consequences later in life. But a statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said a “cause and effect relationship has not as yet been demonstrated between CTE and concussions or exposure to contact sports.”

That conclusion has been criticized by Dr. Robert Cantu, a Boston University researcher who has been one of the leading voices in the study of the effects of concussions. Cantu told the Newark Star-Ledger the new study provides important insight but gets the conclusions wrong.

“The whole breadth of the document is large, and 99 percent of it it I strongly support. But that part of it, I don’t support at all. Frankly, it stunned me,” Cantu said.

In other words, we’re a long way off from any kind of medical consensus about the extent to which contact on the football field leads to brain damage later in life.