On Monday, researchers at the Australian Sports Brain Bank announced the world's first diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a female athlete.
Former Australian Football League player Heather Anderson, who died by suicide at 28 years old last November, has been diagnosed with having had low-stage CTE — a degenerative brain disease linked to concussions — as well as three lesions in her brain.
Anderson's diagnosis is just the tip of the iceberg and should be a wake-up call for every woman playing popular contact sports. Sporting bodies worldwide must also improve concussion protocols to protect their players and minimize or avoid traumatic brain injuries. While CTE may be incurable, lives can be saved by introducing strategies and policies to make contact sports safer in general.
Now that the evidence strongly suggests female athletes are more likely to suffer from concussions than their male counterparts, paying attention to risks inherent in contact sports is imperative. Women's neck strength differs from men's, so enduring constant impacts leads to a higher chance of long-term cognitive impairment. Women should strongly consider restricting participation in high-risk sports altogether given the medical evidence.