On Friday, the Associated Press reported a disturbing new statistic regarding football and the brain: according to actuaries employed by former NFL players as part of a class action suit, 3 in 10 retired players will develop dementia or Alzheimer's at some point in their lifetimes.
If these numbers are accurate, they'd mean that the players were twice as likely as the general population to develop either of the conditions between the ages of 20 and 60. The figure also means that a total of almost 6,000 former players (out of 19,400 currently living) would eventually suffer from either dementia or Alzheimer's, qualifying for payments from the league.
Dementia, depression, and other mental problems are believed to result from the head blows football players experience throughout their careers as part of a disease called CTE. For the past few years, the NFL has been dealing with a class action suit filed by former players, who alleged that the league hid information about the dangers of football.
The two sides reached a $765 million settlement in 2013 — with $675 million of that going to players diagnosed with Alzheimer's, dementia, or other related conditions (CTE can only be diagnosed after death). Judges, however, have been concerned the fund wouldn't be enough to cover all retired players' claims. In response, the league removed the cap on awards, pledging to pay more over time if it becomes necessary.
The new data was prepared for federal judges as part of the settlement approval process, as was just made public. Previous NFL calculations have come to similar conclusions as the new data, estimating that 28 percent of players would qualify for payments because of Alzheimer's or depression diagnoses.
Apart from the suit, the league has been trying to clean up the game for current players, making rule changes to minimize vicious head impacts and being more cautious with players who've already suffered from concussions. At this point, though, it's hard to say if these changes will substantially reduce the risk of long-term neurological issues.