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Former NFL players unusually prone to brain disease deaths

A study of former NFL players finds they were unusually prone to dying from degenerative brain disease, the latest indication that repeated blows to the head may cause serious trouble later on.

The death rate from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease combined was about three times what one would predict from the general population, researchers reported.

Prior research had suggested football players were unusually prone to those diseases, said lead researcher Everett Lehman of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, reported online Wednesday in the journal Neurology, looked at death certificates.

It drew on a long-running study of more than 3,400 NFL players with at least five playing seasons in the league between 1959 and 1988. Some 334 had died by the end of 2007, the cutoff for being included in the study. Researchers compared their death rates from various causes to that of a comparable group of American men.

One or another of the three brain diseases was listed as the underlying cause of death in 10 cases, which is about three times the general rate for American men, the researchers reported.

Also on Wednesday, the NFL announced a donation of $30 million for medical research to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the fundraising arm of the NIH.

Around the league

A federal judge has all but ruled out any prospects for a settlement in the case of four NFL players challenging their bounty suspensions. U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan issued an order in which she lamented the failure of settlement talks. She wrote that she found the failure of settlement talks “extremely disappointing” because she believed “they would likely have resulted in some relief for all four (of) the players.” … The New England Patriots signed running back Lex Hilliard (University of Montana) and released offensive lineman Matt Tennant.

• Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson is back home and doing well after being released from the hospital. The 93-year-old Hall of Fame owner was hospitalized last week and had been listed in good condition … Trent Richardson’s pro debut, delayed by an unexpected surgery, appears to be on schedule. The Browns rookie running back practiced Wednesday and is expected to play and perhaps start Sunday. … Former Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, 87, was hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.