Former NFL player, Akron native questions outlook after CTE study: 'Will I survive?'

Jay Brophy played for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. (Source: Blowout Cards)
Jay Brophy played for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. (Source: Blowout Cards)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - An eye-opening study on the effects football has on the brain has players and fans talking.

In a study just released by the JAMA medical journal, chronic traumatic encephalopathy was found in 99 percent of brains studied from former NFL players who have died. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that can be found in people with a history of repeated head trauma.

The question of whether or not football causes it has been controversial within the NFL over the years.

Cleveland 19 went to a local neurosurgeon and a former NFL player to see what they think of the study. Doctors say it's not necessarily the big hits on the field that do the most damage to football players -- it's the routine tackles and plays that lead to CTE.

Dr. Michael DeGeorgia, director of University Hospitals Neurocritical Care Center, says the study shows a striking number of cases.

"It can be life-changing and devastating for athletes when they develop this condition, and it's progressive," DeGeorgia said.

He says it's important not to jump to conclusions from this one study. CTE symptoms include memory loss, confusion, depression, aggressive behavior and trouble walking or speaking.

According to the study, of the 202 brains studied overall, 87 percent were found to have CTE. The disease was found in three of the 14 high school players, and 48 out of 53 college players.

"The longer people play and the more frequently they have concussions or even minor non-concussion head blows, that increases the risk of developing CTE," DeGeorgia said.

Akron native Jay Brophy played football for the Miami Hurricanes in college and was a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins in the 1980s.

"Well I loved it," he said. "I played the national championships in 1983 with the Miami Hurricanes and then went right to the Super Bowl in 1984 with the Dolphins."

He says NFL football has changed since then.

"I just laugh, because it was, 'How many fingers am I holding up?' It doesn't matter, you're going in anyways," he said.

Brophy was diagnosed with the beginning stages of dementia five years ago.

"It led to me being depressed, now it's just a coping thing, one day at a time," Brophy said.

Brophy says this study is disturbing, but not surprising. He's happy to see research like this fighting for players, but he worries it will not help the players like him who are suffering now.

"Will I see it in my lifetime? Will I be able to survive? The problem I have is all of us guys out there hurting now, we get put on hold and we just can't afford to have that happen," Brophy said.

Brophy will be donating his brain to research at Boston University, one of the universities involved in this study.

The NFL acknowledged a connection between football and CTE for the first time last year.

In 2015, a federal judge approved a settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players. It provides up to $5 million dollars per retired player for serious medical conditions due to head trauma. Brophy was part of that lawsuit.

The doctor in charge of the CTE study points out there is potential bias because relatives of the players may have submitted their brains due to symptoms they experienced before they died.

Without a comparison group, the study could not give an overall estimate of the risk playing football has on the brain.

You can learn more about CTE from the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

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