• Andrew Thurston

    Editor, The Brink Twitter Profile

    Photo of Andrew Thurston, a white man with black glasses. He smiles and wears a maroon polo shirt.

    Andrew Thurston is originally from England, but has grown to appreciate the serial comma and the Red Sox, while keeping his accent (mostly) and love of West Ham United. He joined BU in 2007, and is the editor of the University’s research news site, The Brink; he was formerly director of alumni publications. Before joining BU, he edited consumer and business magazines, including for corporations, nonprofits, and the UK government. His work has won awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the In-House Agency Forum, Folio:, and the British Association of Communicators in Business. Andrew has a bachelor’s degree in English and related literature from the University of York. Profile

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There are 3 comments on Young Amateur Athletes at Risk of CTE, BU Study Finds

  1. “The study didn’t include samples from young people who played noncontact sports—the UNITE Brain Bank mainly takes donations from those who’d been concerned about their brain health during life.”
    I think this quote really shows a big limitation of this study. The group of individuals being studied were all concerned about their brain health during life, which is a major limiting factor. It would be much more relevant to see a RANDOM sampling of brains from people who played contact sports. Of course, that study might not be feasible, since people who aren’t concerned about their brain health are probably less likely to donate their brains to science. And, though 40% of the brains studied did show some evidence of CTE, the inverse statement is equally true — 60% of brains studied did not show any evidence of CTE. And this is among people who were concerned about brain health. Even further, it is unclear how, if at all, these brain changes actually affected these patients while they were alive. Just because there were physical brain changes, does not mean these brain changes actually manifested as cognitive or behavioral changes.

    Studies like this one are very important, and I’m glad we are doing work to keep young athletes safe. They are important to keep in mind and investigate further. But it is important to take their results with their limitations in mind.

    1. As college and pro football start their 2023 seasons the central statistic in this article is:

      “many NFL veterans spend their retirements grappling with declining brain health. Almost all—92 percent—of ex-NFL players studied have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). ”

      Whatever shortcomings in the ‘scientific method’ of the study, common sense suggests that there is a serious problem with the level of violence in these sports and of course younger people will be affected. We don’t need to wait another for 10 years of studies.

  2. I’m an alum and a Ph.D., and I played contact sports for ten years in my youth.

    First, the comment from the alum dated Aug. 30 is very important. The 40% statistic doesn’t have a clear meaning outside a very specific context which might not be relevant to most readers. It would be very easy to misunderstand and exaggerate the relevance of this statistic. It is not clear at all what the study means for the vast majority of people who played contact sports or are parents of kids who play contact sports.

    Second, the writing is unfortunately very vague on some central points. The article emphasizes ‘amateur’ athletics. In the U.S., it is conventional to refer to school sports as ‘high-school’ sports or ‘college’ sports, and sports for kids under 18 which are not organized by schools, are often called ‘league’ or neighborhood sports etc. The term ‘amateur’ might be associated most closely with a relatively small proportion of athletes- post high-school athletes who play outside the context of college sports and are not in professional leagues. But it could be applied to college athletes. Without clarification, it’s just not clear. It is also not clear from this article if the activities which led to the observed brain disease were related to middle school sports, youth sports, college sports, etc. There is also no mention of how many years of contact sports were reported for the athletes whose brains were studied, or how many played which sport. Hockey, football (American), and soccer are all different with respect to how often heads are involved, and how hard the impacts are, and whether helmets are involved. In soccer, for one example, the primary head impacts are with a ball, which is much smaller and more elastic than the heads or helmets of other players; but on the other hand, soccer practices can include thousands of ‘headers’ – there are drills that involve nothing else.

    Head injury or head trauma in sports is a very important topic, and it has practical relevance to tens of millions of Americans. I hope the article is revised so that the relevance of the study to the vast majority of youth athletes or former youth athletes, and their parents, and their healthcare providers, can be much clarified. Unfortunately, and fortunately, clarification will involve admitting that the study isn’t as relevant to a general audience as is implied.

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