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Brain disease found in 76 of 79 NFL players examined in study

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A study conducted by a well-regarded brain depository found a heavy prevalence of brain disease in deceased former professional players.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

A study focused on the effects of traumatic brain injury examined 79 deceased former NFL players, and determined that 76 had been suffering from a degenerative brain disease before their death. The study was conducted by the Department of Veterans' Affairs brain depository in Bedford, Mass., which examined the brain tissue of 128 former professional, semi-professional, college or high school football players.

Of those 128 players, 101 were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE. The study comes just before an Oct. 14 deadline for former players to decide whether to opt out of a class-action lawsuit settlement by the NFL that opened up an uncapped monetary fund to benefit players suffering from brain disorders, and their beneficiaries.

The lawsuit was brought about by 4,500 former players who alleged that the NFL had concealed the long-term effects on the brain sustained from playing football. Though the NFL reached a settlement, there has still been some disagreement over the prevalence of brain disorders in former players. A study filed to a federal court by the NFL revealed that nearly a third of all former players suffer from some form of cognitive disorder.

The DVA's study was also released on the heels of the news that Jovan Belcher, former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who murdered his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before committing suicide in 2012, likely suffered from CTE before his death, according to a post-mortem examination of his brain. Former San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau and Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson were also found to have been suffering from CTE before killing themselves.

PBS notes that the DVA study may not reflect the actual prevalence of brain disease in former players, because players who have agreed to donate their brains before their deaths may have been more likely to have suspected or already been diagnosed with a cognitive disorder. Nonetheless, the study is yet another sobering reminder of the dangers that football presents to its participants.