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Research on the brains of 202 former football players has confirmed what many feared in life _ evidence of the devastating disease CTE in nearly all the samples, from athletes in the NFL, college and even high school. (July 25) AP

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In his six seasons as an NFL quarterback, Chuck Long was never diagnosed with a concussion.

But the former Iowa star was still taken aback last summer when he read about research at Boston University that found chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of 99 percent of the former NFL players studied.

“It got everybody’s attention,” Long said. “Your first thought is, ‘Gosh, if it’s 99 out of 100, is there a chance that I have CTE?’ That’s what you think. But I don’t know. I think it’s something that’s scary, there’s no doubt about it.”

Long was the keynote speaker Friday at the annual fundraising banquet for CTE Hope in Des Moines. The nonprofit was founded by the family of Zac Easter after his death in December 2015. Easter, of Indianola, was just 24 when he realized that a series of concussions had ravaged his brain, which later was found to have CTE.

Long, the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1985 with the Hawkeyes, was happy to help the cause when approached by Brenda Easter, Zac’s mother, in August. CTE Hope is attempting to perfect a simple saliva test that could be used to diagnose concussions on the sideline of sporting events.

That would be a major breakthrough, Long told the Register on Saturday, one he never envisioned during his playing days.

“It was just part of the game,” Long said of the hits he absorbed while making 21 starts with the Detroit Lions. “If you’re feeling good and you could see OK, you’re playing. But a lot of the time you were playing with a headache.”

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Long, 55, is a participant in the NFL’s Baseline Assessment Program, which arose out of a 2017 settlement of a concussion lawsuit. He said he recently traveled to Omaha for cognitive testing and shows no symptoms of having CTE, although the disease can’t be truly diagnosed until after death.

Long, like the Easter family, still believes that football is a great sport worth preserving. They just want to make it safer for all participants.

Long believes children should play flag football until age 14. That’s what he did growing up in Wheaton, Illinois.

“I think you develop more fundamentals and you learn the nuances of the game in flag football more than you do in padded football,” he said. “You’re working your feet and you have to learn a little bit more finesse. It gets everybody involved more, I think.

“I don’t think you need to put pads on until you’re in high school.”

More on CTE:

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Mike Hadden, Program Director of Athletic Training at Simpson College, is working on a way to quickly diagnose concussions using a saliva test. Hadden says the test will also monitor when inflammation is reduced and athletes can safely return to play Rodney White/The Register

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