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Feature Sports Research

Why the NFL is investing in health research

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 05 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6626
  1. Bob Roehr, freelance journalist
  1. 1Washington, DC, USA
  1. BobRoehr{at}

As the National Football League makes a multimillion dollar donation to an NIH sports research program, Bob Roehr looks at the growing link between football and medical research

Concussion was just a normal part of football when Dave Duerson played for the Chicago Bears. Dismissed as “dingers,” or a guy getting “his bell rung,” blows to the head weren’t considered a medical problem unless the player was knocked unconscious.

But a few years after he retired, Duerson started to complain of headaches, then his speech began to slur and his vision blurred. His life collapsed, and he blamed it on the earlier concussions. He committed suicide in 2011, at the age of 50, shooting himself in the heart, with orders that his brain be donated to science to study the phenomena.

When Ann McKee, a neurologist at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, took a look she saw “tremendous abnormalities throughout the frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that controls insight, judgment, and executive function,” she told a congressional briefing last fall.1 “There were virtually no deposits of β amyloids or nerve tangles, which characterize Alzheimer’s disease.”

McKee’s research has focused on the effects of sports related traumatic brain injury. She has seen …

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