Association of Position Played and Career Duration and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy at Autopsy in Elite Football and Hockey Players

Objective

To determine whether an association exists between career duration or position played and the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at autopsy in a series of elite football and hockey players.

Methods

This retrospective cohort study analyzed postmortem brains of 35 former football or hockey players (29 professional, 6 university varsity/major junior), with the presence of CTE at autopsy as the primary outcome. Position played (highest level), age at retirement (indicator of lifetime exposure to sport), and hockey fighting/penalization histories (surrogate marker for role/style of play) were collected. A blinded neuropathologic evaluation of each participant was performed, providing an assessment for neurodegenerative diseases including CTE, based on the 2015 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke/National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineeringconsensus paper.

Results

In total, 17 of 35 former players (48.6%) showed pathologic evidence of CTE. There was no correlation found between position played and CTE presence, nor between hockey fighting/penalization histories and CTE, in either the football or hockey groups (p > 0.75, Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon). Similarly, there was no association between age at retirement and CTE presence (p > 0.5, Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon). In 24 of 35 cases (68.6%), other neuropathologies were present, 13 of 24 (54.2%) of which were coexistent with CTE.

Conclusion

In this cohort of 35 former collision sports athletes, no significant associations were found between career duration, position or role played, and CTE presence at autopsy. Although limited by the small and nonrepresentative sample studied, these findings suggest that nonsport factors may be important to understand differing susceptibilities among athletes to CTE.

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