The link between brain injuries and aggression

It's fall in Minnesota and that means Vikings fans are proudly donning their purple and gold as they cheer on their team. Unfortunately, the start of this NFL football season has been marred by the alleged crimes of two star running backs, the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Rice and the Minnesota Vikings, Adrian Peterson.

As we noted in our last blog post, last Feb. Rice was arrested after a fight with his then fiancé and charged with aggravated assault. More recently video footage surfaced showing Rice punching his fiancé and knocking her unconscious. Just last week, photos surfaced of physical injuries suffered by Peterson's four-year-old son after the NFL player hit him with a switch.

These and other examples of violence among professional athletes have raised questions about the possible role brain injuries play in contributing to athletes’ aggressive and violent behavior. Repeated brain injuries like concussions have been linked to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.

According to Loyola Medicine, "CTE is believed to be the cause of behavioral symptoms including irritability, anger, aggression, depression and suicide." While neither Rice nor Peterson have been diagnosed as suffering a traumatic brain injury or with CTE, there’s a good chance that both have suffered previous concussions and severe blows to the head.

Researchers point to damage to the frontal lobe of the brain as contributing to symptoms of aggression in TBI sufferers. This part of the brain is critical in providing an individual with the capacity to maintain control and show restraint. If this portion of the brain is damaged, individuals often display aggressive behaviors.

In recent years, numerous lawsuits against the NFL have helped shed light on the damaging and devastating effects of TBI injuries. A brain injury and the resulting side effects are complex. Given numerous cases of domestic violence and other violent acts committed by professional athletes, it's very possible that TBIs are a contributing factor.

Source: NBC News, "Could Brain Injuries Be Behind the NFL Rap Sheet?" Linda Carroll, Sept. 17, 2014

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