The answer, surprisingly, may be scientifically uncertain. That said, some common sense observations can be used to bridge this scientific gap to conclude that there are real risks associated with long term participation in contact sport.
Without marginalizing the discussion surrounding concussive injury and potential long term health implications, a recent study was published earlier this year in the British Journal of Sport Medicine which reviewed ” the current state of evidence for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in retired athletes”
The authors conclude that “it is not possible to determine the causality or risk factors with any certainty. As such, the speculation that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE remains unproven. The extent to which age-related changes, psychiatric or mental health illness, alcohol/drug use or coexisting dementing illnesses contribute to this process is largely unaccounted for in the published literature.”
I found these conclusions surprising and reached out to Dr. Johnny Benjamin, who has been known to bridge the worlds of medicine and MMA, and provided the following thoughtful comments:
And what about other factors that need to be considered such as athlete lifestyle playing a role? The following observation seems well grounded –
While more studies are clearly needed to more thoroughly explore the risks of CTE from contact sports, Dr. Benjamin’s common sense observations can help athletes appreciate that real risks nonetheless exist which can help lead to more informed participant consent.