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National Sports Brain Bank opens at University of Pittsburgh

Mike Florio and Chris Simms evaluate the Steelers’ reported move to re-sign Mason Rudolph and explore where he fits into the QB conversation, after Kenny Pickett’s concussions last season.

To better understand the long-term impacts of head trauma, more research is needed. More research is coming, thanks to a new program launched today in Pittsburgh.

Via Ken Belson of the New York Times, the National Sports Brain Bank at the University of Pittsburgh is open.

The discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy was one thing. Understanding how it impacts those who have it is another. In the years since research began, much is still not known about the condition.

Most of the research to date has come from the CTE Center at Boston University. Now, the National Sports Brain Bank will add to the data. Former Steelers players Jerome Bettis and Merril Hoge already have pledged their brains to the effort, for study after they die.

The National Sports Brain Bank will be recruiting volunteers, athletes and non-athletes alike, in order to develop a more robust picture of brain health.

There will be potentially differing interpretations, and there could be bias. The National Sports Brain Bank will have ties to the NFL. Seed money came from the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Research, a group launched in 2016 partly with a donation from the Steelers. Also, Hoge has been outspoken in his defense of the game, co-authoring the 2018 book entitled Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind C.T.E. and the Plot to Destroy Football.

There also could be tension between the National Sports Brain Bank and the fiercely independent CTE Center. Already, the National Sports Brain Bank suggests that some research from the CTE Center shows bias. The brains donated to the CTE Center, for example, typically come from athletics who showed symptoms of the condition while alive. The National Sports Brain Bank aims to “reduce, eliminate, obviate that kind of bias.”

Dr. Ann McKee, who runs the CTE Center, contends that any potential bias is taken into account in her group’s work. “We are doing all of this,” she said.

She also welcomes more groups to the effort.

"[I]t’s always great to have another group involved, and it’ll accelerate the research and accelerate scientific discoveries, especially concerning treatment,” she said. “So that’s fantastic.”

Today, anyone who puts on a football helmet knows the game entails risk of head trauma. We still don’t know the extent of that risk, and it has caused among other things undue stress and anxiety for retired players who have come to believe that their brains are ticking time bombs.

The more we know about CTE, the more future, current, and former players can know about the connection between blows to the head and potential long-term health problems.