A recent BBC documentary showed former England international footballer Alan Shearer investigating the link between football and dementia. Research has found a potential link between head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that may be triggered by continuous knocks to the head – something footballers do by regularly heading the ball during training sessions particularly. Shearer remembers he would often head the ball around 100 times a day during these sessions. Footballs have changed over the years, but many older players will remember the heavy leather balls that would bring tears to their eyes if a blow by the same was received. When wet, they were heavier by as much as 200 grams.
DR Willie Stewart, a Scottish neuropathologist first identified CTE in Jeff Astle, another British footballer’s brain, during a post-mortem examination and the University College London (UCL) also found CTE in four out of six players’ brains they looked at. The programme talks about how three of the nine surviving members of England’s 1966 World Cup team are now living with dementia and who would have played with those original leather balls.
Boston University has also been studying this concept after many American Football players were found to have been suffering with the disease and their families donated the brains of their sons for further research. It took hundreds of autopsies before the National Football League in America accepted that there was a devastating link to be researched further.
CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem and this fact has led to players like Alan Shearer wanting to donate their brains for further research. The Drake Foundation has now announced an extra Million pounds to help the UCL with this.
To see the BBC programme ‘Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me’ click below.