Concussion Debate Heats Up with Belcher Incident, Emergence of Study

Two developments over the weekend have added fuel to the fire about the devastating impact that concussions can potentially have on the brains of ex-professional athletes.

First, speculation is surfacing that Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker Jovan Belcher may have had concussion issues in recent weeks before killing his girlfriend and turning the gun on himself Saturday. While it is too early to confirm the connection, speculation is rampant (

Second, Boston University School of Medicine researchers have published a study today that suggests, among other things that the brains of many professional athletes, who have died, were found to have been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Specifically, they studied 85 brains, finding that 68 showed signs of CTE, a disease brought on by repetitive hits to the head and linked to depression, memory loss, aggression and dementia. Half of those 68 were former professional football players, according to The Toronto Globe and Mail.

“I don’t think we can ignore it any longer. It’s not going to go away if we pretend it doesn’t exist. It does exist,” said Anne McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University and the study’s lead author, told the paper. “And if you talk to any of [their] family members, they will tell you it’s devastating. Truthfully, working on this disease is really heartbreaking.”

The study, however, also identified a possible genetic or environmental connection, since some of the older brains had low-level CTE despite being exposed to brain trauma as young athletes.

“It definitely opens up the question of, ‘Why do the majority of people relentlessly progress with this disease, but not everybody?’” noted Robert Cantu, co-author of the paper and co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston. “What is it unique about those people that don’t relentlessly progress? And that holds great hope, if we can figure it out, for treatment and prevention.”

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