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Survey: 96 percent of deceased NFL players had CTE

New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau warms up

New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau warms up on the field before an NFL wild card playoff game in Foxborough, Mass. on Jan. 10, 2010. Credit: AP/ Charles Krupa

New figures released Friday reveal that 96 percent of deceased NFL players examined by researchers had the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The figures come from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, who shared data with the PBS documentary series "Frontline." The Department of Veterans Affairs and BU are researching traumatic head injury.

According to the Frontline website, researchers found CTE in 87 of 91 deceased NFL players. In total, researchers found CTE in 79 percent -- or 131 of 165 -- deceased players who participated in either pro, semipro, college or high school football. Frontline reported that 40 percent of those who tested positive for CTE were offensive and defensive linemen.

"People think that we're blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we're sensationalizing it," Dr. Ann McKee, who runs the lab as part of the collaborative arrangement with the veterans affairs department and Boston University, said on the Frontline website. "My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players."

CTE has been found in dozens of deceased NFL players, including linebacker Junior Seau, and defensive backs Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and Andre Waters, all of whom are believed to have committed suicide.

The NFL, which donated $1 million to Boston University for the study of brain injuries in 2010 and $30 million to the National Institutes of Health in 2012, responded to the new data on Friday.

"We are dedicated to making football safer and continue to take steps to protect players, including rule changes, advanced sideline technology and expanded medical resources," an NFL spokesman said in a statement to Newsday. "We continue to make significant investments in independent research through our gifts to Boston University, the NIH and other efforts to accelerate the science and understanding of these issues."

The NFL said in its health and safety report for 2015 that concussions in regular-season games fell 35 percent during the past two seasons. There were 173 concussions in 2012 and 112 in 2014, according to the report. The NFL also has launched a high-profile safety campaign with rules in place to discourage hits to the head.

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