- Overview. Researchers believe that a longitudinal study of a distinct group of former football players may be the best vehicle for identifying, understanding, and addressing the medical issues related to playing college football. Our independent study, in this respect, is an unprecedented project that might benefit medical research in this field and have potential translational benefits for our former ND players, as well as future players and their families at all levels of the sport. All things considered, the players simply believe that this study is the right thing to do. Hopefully, this medical study, as well as later studies, may move the needle in the direction of better protecting the health and safety of players’ and their families.
- Origin of the Study. In the spring of 2018 different individuals and groups of former ND players scattered across a range of ND classes became increasing aware of each other and shared concerns about the apparent prevalence of medical issues and impairments in fellow ND players. After discovering from researchers and others, including people in ND’s athletic department, that good studies of medical risk related to playing college football do not exist, and that no studies of former ND players were planned, the players organized and initiated the Independent ND Footballers Medical Research Project in cooperation with Boston University School of Medicine. Gifts from former ND players in the study totaling nearly $70,000 have enabled Boston University School of Medicine to initiate this multi-year study.
- Status of Study. This independent medical study includes players from the 17 Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine seasons (1964-1980), and includes over 500 players. Over ninety players are now deceased and information is being gathered through families where possible. Of the 400 living players, about 300 are participating in the study. The study includes a general medical survey (stage 1) as well as athletic history and cognitive impairment assessment (stage 2). Findings will be published in professional medical journals in 2020. The goals and protocols of the study, along with medical consultants, and player committees, etc. are fully set out in the BU Medical Research Plan which is at another link on this website.
- Going Forward. The study is a longitudinal study of the medical condition of former ND football players now 57-76 years of age that will be updated by BU study annually as players’ age. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is initiating a new medical research grant program for studying traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic mental impairment that is an exceptional fit as a subsequent complement to our ND footballers study. Our medical study will likely be followed by NIH-funded research at Boston University School of Medicine, as well as medical centers at University of California, San Francisco, the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Harvard University, and others. These medical issues are now receiving increasing media attention and may well overshadow the sport of football in the foreseeable future.
Notre Dame’s Role in the Study. This study was initiated by former University of Notre Dame football players during the seventeen seasons 1964-1980. Though the University has informally welcomed the study, the study is entirely independent of the University of Notre Dame and is not officially sponsored or funded by the university. No one doubts ND’s concern with player safety. We believe we share the same goals. We ask nothing of ND, not money or endorsement. We wish only for her goodwill.
ND likely has over a thousand younger former football players that are not included in this study. We hope to reach out to those younger players and share our resources. The players’ steering committee includes some of the world’s leading researchers and treating physicians in this field of medicine. A medical study, such as this, focused on the medical impact of playing American football, including CTE and other cognitive impairments, seems amply warranted today. We all loved the game that we played at Notre Dame. We just believe that the heath of the game and the health of the players go hand-in-hand.
Brief Notes and Players’ Perspective