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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 1

How Football Destroys the Brain

The rise of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among some athletes suggests that repeated blows to the head may trigger the brain's unraveling

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Mike Webster played for 17 seasons in the National Football League (NFL). He was instrumental to the Pittsburgh Steelers' four Super Bowl victories during his career. In 2002 he died of heart failure in the coronary care unit of Allegheny General Hospital at age 50. His medical history included serious neuropsychiatric problems beginning around the time he left the NFL.

After Webster retired at age 38, his family watched him disintegrate into a tormented, wandering soul living out of his Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck. After his death, an astute neuropathologist at the University of Pittsburgh, Bennet Omalu, performed an autopsy on Webster and preserved regions of his brain for later microscopic analysis.

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