Frank Gifford’s Brain Showed CTE
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
Frank Gifford died at 84 of natural causes. Because he had always been concerned with player safety and helped to found the National Football League Players Association, his family donated his brain to science for study.
Frank Gifford, a beloved running back in the 1950s and 1960s, played for the New York Giants of the National Football League. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and after he retired, he became a popular and an award-winning sportscaster for Monday Night Football. Even though Gifford showed no outward signs of neurodegenerative disease, his family said in a released statement that he experienced symptoms. As a running back, Gifford endured many sub-concussive hits, which many neurologists now believe contribute to neurodegenerative disease. In 1960, Gifford was knocked unconscious by a brutally hard tackle. That concussion caused the end of his season, and he did not play the next year.
The study of Frank Gifford’s brain revealed that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in the autopsied brains of people who played contact sports. So far, 88 of 92 brains of professional players of American football have shown CTE (1, 2). Gifford’s brain makes that statistic 89 of 93.
What makes Frank Gifford’s brain special is that Gifford died of natural causes. The other players whose brains tested positive for CTE showed symptoms of brain disease. (In fact, some of the deaths were from suicide.) The claim has been made that the group that was almost entirely positive for CTE was biased. But Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University’s CTE Center and the person who studied most of the brains, pointed out that, even in a biased sample, the number of brains testing positive for CTE is ridiculously high. Frank Gifford’s brain would not be considered part of the biased sample. (Gifford showed no outward signs of brain disease.) Yet Frank Gifford’s brain tested positive for CTE. This latest result is consistent with Dr. McKee’s worry that CTE is common among players of American football. (Full story)
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