Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia. (Boston University)
Concussions were a matter of “getting your bell rung.” A growing awareness of the severity of concussions actually began with the story of Jon Mackey, tight end for the Baltimore Colts.
According to the article, John Mackey’s Price For Playing Football Was neither Fair Nor Just by David Steele, published in Sporting News:
“Long before the results of studies of concussions, brain trauma and CTE became a battleground in the NFL and other levels of football, Mackey began suffering from dementia, and his wife began letting the league know that she needed help. The cost of his care was skyrocketing, his pension didn’t nearly cover it, the league was in its oft-repeated habit of denying additional help because it couldn’t connect his situation to any specific football-related cause. She had to return to work while taking care of him.”
Sylvia Mackey reached out to then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue and then-union chief Gene Upshaw to let them know that men like her husband, who helped build the NFL into the empire it is today, were not being taken care of late in life.
She and her husband never launched verbal (or in some cases physical) attacks on Upshaw and the union as many of his retired peers did so often. But she got results, in the form of the “88 Plan,” named for his jersey number, providing funds for nursing-home care, home care and other needs for players suffering as he was.