When you first hear the words “chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” you might dismiss it as a mouthful of healthcare jargon without any real personal significance. But if you or your loved ones have a history of playing impact sports like football, you may want to take notice. CTE describes a recently documented disease common to veteran football players. Wait…does football cause disease? No, this isn’t something picked up from exposure to a communal locker room, but rather the accumulation of thousands of blows to the head. CTE can cause memory loss, depression, dementia, and difficulty performing mental tasks; often these symptoms don’t appear until years after a football player has stopped playing. To understand the science behind CTE and some wild suggestions to help prevent it, let’s take a quick look at the history of football helmets.
Football helmets made their debut in the early 1900s with the innovation of hardened leather. Debate remains over who was the actual inventor of the football helmet because they were initially optional in professional games and few players wore them. It slowly became common to wear helmets because they provided some protection; the thick leather pads were designed to blunt blows on the forehead while cushioning the ears and rest of the skull. A mix between boxing headgear and wrestling ear guards provides a good visualization of the original football helmets.