MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A Mid-South woman is shedding light on a disease impacting athletes both young and old. The daughter of a former NFL player spoke exclusively with WMC Action News 5 about the impacts hard hits can have on football players.
Mid-South high school football games are as good a spot as any to catch hard hitting, tough tackling, and helmet flying plays.
Karen Tutt has been a football fan her entire life.
In the 1950s, her father, Richard Alban, was a running back, and he played both sides of the field for the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"On a tackle his chin strap came off, his helmet came off, and he got a deep gash in his side, he had a scar," Tutt said.
A health report said her father likely suffered 100- plus concussions during his high school, college, and NFL years. She saw the impact on her father's body long after his last play.
"Memory impairment, episodes of memory loss," Tutt said.
Upon his death, researchers at Boston University studied Alban's brain along with the brains of 201 other football players. Of the brains studied, 87% showed signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative nerve disease that develops overtime from repetitive hits to the head causing memory loss, depression, increased impulsivity, and suicidal thoughts.
"This is still very striking, a very striking finding," Dr. Ann Mckee with the CTE Center at Boston University said.
Dr. McKee spent eight years researching players' brains for Boston University. CTE was discovered in 99-percent of the NFL players studied. The brains of 48 of 53 college players showed CTE.
"I think it says that there is a problem in football, and a problem in football at high levels," Mckee said.
Research revealed the disease in three of the 14 high school players in the study. The next step for researchers is to get a better understanding of what impact this game has on the brains of its youngest athletes.
The WMC Action News 5 Investigators spent time with the Allen Station Bears youth football team - ages 5 to 12. We watched as players were coached on the difference between a good hit and a bad hit.
"Not utilizing the helmet first, shoulder pads are the safest way," coach Craig Littles with Memphis Shelby Pal said.
This youth team follows strict concussion protocol outlined in this Tennessee state policy - requiring all parents, coaches, and school administrators to familiarize themselves with the signs of a concussion.
Coaches must pass an online class and if a child gets sidelined with a concussion, and it will take a doctor's signature on a "Return to Play" paper to get the athlete back on the field.
It's protocol Karen Tutt hopes will protect players at an early age.
"Take this seriously. When you have a hit, listen to the protocol they tell you," Tutt said.
The current state guidelines focus on concussions, but do not alter the number of hits a player takes during practice or in a game. Dr. Mckee says in order to better protect players from CTE, changes should be made not only in how many hits a player takes but also the number of games played in a season.