TODAY   |  December 26, 2013

Effects of football concussions coming to light

NBC special anchor Maria Shriver talks to medical officials and families who are working to raise awareness about sports-related brain injuries, and perhaps even find a cure.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> the issue of sports-related brain injuries have become a major cause for concern for athletes. maria schriver got a good look at that.

>> thank you t. neurologist that runs the brain bank in bedford, massachusetts. the die hard fan dedicated her career to understanding and hopefully finding a cure for sports-related brain injuries .

>> i think they're high risks associated with football. and the longer you play and the more successfully you play the higher the likely input is you will develop a problem.

>> neuropathologist dr. anne mckee studies the brain, specifically athlete's brain, with a focus on former nfl players. her goals, diagnose and find a cure for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

>> it's like alzheimer's disease only in all the recorded instances, it's been associated with trauma.

>> reporter: many researchers believe cte develops from hits like this and this. tackles that rattle a player's brain pence his helmet.

>> we cannot have them acting like gladiators out there. they are suffering from severe injuries with those hits that we sort of encourage on the side line.

>> dr. mckee gave me back my prince charming .

>> reporter: lisa mckail's husband tom played professional football for nine seasons. college sweet hearts , their marriage seems like a fairy tale until the last two years when tom suffered from depression and addiction, both of which experts say is linked to cte .

>> it was so different from the man i had known and i began to question my memories of him.

>> reporter: in 2008 at the age of 45 after three attempts at rehab, tom overdosed.

>> when anne explained to me about cte , it's as though i had confirmation that, tom had simply been moving his mind.

>> reporter: tom's brain is one of over 178 dr. mckee has at the brain bank, with over 74% showing cte , the need for answers has never seen more urgent. inf no, brett favre told matt lauer the hits he endured throughout his career have taken their toll.

>> i have talked to several doctors to ask them about symptoms, one is not being able to finish a sentence or not remembering the words, the specific word. i've noticed it lately, if there is any symptom at all that would be the one that shows the most.

>> reporter: hall of famer's tony dorsett and harry carson admit post-concussion-related issues. super bowl quarterback tim mcmann has early stage dementia. one committed suicide. one brain dr. mckee studied in august the nfl reached its $765 million settlement with thousands of retired players suffering the effects of long term head trauma if nfl said they have taken many steps, including funding medical research and instituting new rules. part of what it says is a profound commitment to the health and safety of its players.

>> the success for me would be able to identify this disease during life and absolutely most importantly being able to stop it in its tracks.

>> well, conversations like this are now the new norm. parents need to be thinking about the impact these sports are having on their children. families need the think about how brain injury could affect them because it becomes a family disease.

>> absolutely. we love the competition so much. but this is a conversation that needs to be had.

>> absolutely. are you going to pay for it and have it later?

>> all right. maria, thank you