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Editorial: Smart decisions as some football players call it quits in light of evidence of widespread brain trauma

The study of the brains of deceased football players produced shocking results and it has had at least one appropriate impact: Some young players are hanging it up before suffering permanent and fatal brain damage.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System discovered brain trauma in 177 of the 202 brains that were donated from men who played football at all levels. The brains were donated for research.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease linked to constant blows to the head. The study has been questioned because of its narrow framework, but the results are startling: 99 percent of the brains donated by families of former NFL players circled back to the neurodegenerative disease.

Evidence of the disease was found across all levels of player, but the highest percentage was found among those who played at the highest level. That accounts for all but one of the 111 brains belonging to ex-NFL players diagnosed postmortem with CTE.

The News has published articles spotlighting former Buffalo Bills players and others who have suffered from numerous hits and whose lives have been ravaged. Current players have taken note, notwithstanding the foolish, youthful utterances New York Jets rookie safety Jamal Adams made about the field being the perfect place to die.

Keana McMahon, the former wife of late Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, was right to be upset about Adams’ comments. Strzelczyk, from West Seneca, died in 2004 following a head-on collision with a tanker truck after leading state troopers on a 40-mile highway chase in New York. He was diagnosed with CTE after his death.

These stories are in part the reason high-profile young football players are taking early retirement. Among those making this life-changing decision was John Urschel, a Canisius High graduate and math wizard and an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. He walked away from potential more millions at the ripe young age of 26.

Urschel is pursuing his doctorate in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, figuring that the multimillion-dollar salary he was sure to earn over the subsequent years carried too high a price. He wisely surmised he can earn a decent everyman salary on which to raise a family, while concentrating on spectral graph theory and spending more time thinking about high dimensional data compression or some such. Good choice.

Urschel is following in the footsteps of another ex-football player whose decision he greatly admires: Chris Borland famously left a promising career as a linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers. Borland was all of 24 when he made his life-changing decision.

The NFL agreed to a whopper of a legal settlement and a similar lawsuit is pending in the National Hockey League. More attention on the topic is needed, especially on children. This study carries that important conversation forward.

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