CTE found in over 95% of deceased NFL players. But the number found in female athletes?—it’s 0

But the reason why is not what you'd expect
February 13, 2018 10:32 am Last Updated: February 13, 2018 10:32 am

The 2018 Winter Olympics is upon us. Millions of fans all over the world are joining in to watch this celebration of culture and athletics. Yet, not everything about The Olympics is worth celebrating.

“I saw teammates around me that literally lost their career or had to retire early, prematurely, because they had major, major concussions,” four-time U.S. Olympic ice hockey player Angela Ruggiero told ABC News.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Concussions are a major issue within the athletic field. A 2016 study claims that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (or CTE) has been discovered in over 95% of deceased NFL players yet the number of discovered cases for female athletes remains at zero. This isn’t because women can’t get concussions or because they’re any less susceptible to them than men. In fact, CTE in female athletes just isn’t being researched.

“Because football has received the most coverage, females don’t get enough attention,” said Dr. Chris Nowinski of Concussion Legacy Foundation.

Of the more than 2,800 brain donations to the Concussion Legacy Foundation since 2008, only around 560 are female. That’s only 3%! Currently, The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank (the largest brain bank focused on CTE) has received less than 10 brain donations from women.  Fortunately, Ruggiero and other athletes are changing that by pledging to donate their brains to CTE research when they pass away.

(Concussion Legacy Foundation/Screenshot)

“I know that a lot of studies have been done that skew towards male subjects and I thought it was important to have more female brains,” Ruggiero said in a video for Concussion Legacy Foundation.

Ruggiero is certainly right about this, as Dr. Nowinski confirmed to ABC.

“We can’t even begin to explore sex differences until we get the brains of females with CTE,” he said. “We haven’t had that first case of CTE in a prominent female athlete that opens up everybody’s eyes.”

According to a study presented at last year’s Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), female high school soccer players have the highest rate of concussions of any sport. So, saying that concussions are a serious risk for female athletes is far from baseless speculation!

(Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for Premier League)

What makes this tricky is that it’s currently only possible to diagnose CTE post-mortem. So it could be some time before this recent surge in female brain donations yields results. Still, Ruggiero believes that, no matter how long it takes, her efforts will be well worth it.

“I already donate my liver and other organs when I have that box checked on my license,” Ruggiero said on video. “This is just another piece of me.

“…I realize that, by pledging my brain, maybe there’s another way I can give back with people I’ll never meet and future generations I’ll never see.”

(Concussion Legacy Foundation/Screenshot)

Both Ruggiero and Nowinski know that spreading awareness is the key to preventing brain damage.

 “Awareness is a big thing,” said Ruggiero on video. “I think, if you’re aware of the risks of a sport, you’re more likely to protect and do things that protect out children.”

Ultimately, Ruggiero hopes that this research leads to a safer and healthier future for athletes.

“I’m really pushing organizations to make sure that sports are safe, that we feel good when we put our kids out on the field to play,” she continued. “…[This is] one of the things we can do to protect our children, so that we actively encourage them to compete.”