[ see-tee-ee ]
/ ˈsiˈtiˈi /
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abbreviation, noun
chronic traumatic encephalopathy: a progressive degenerative neurological disease caused by repeated cerebral concussion or milder traumatic brain injury and characterized by memory loss, behavioral disturbances, speech problems, slowed movement, etc. The disease was first identified in boxers.
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Also called dementia pugilistica .

Origin of CTE

First recorded in 1945–50 for chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is CTE?

CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma to the head. The disease is especially prevalent among military veterans and professional athletes like American football players.

How is CTE pronounced?

[ see-tee-ee ]

CTE meaning

The first description of CTE was by Dr. Harrison Martland in 1928, who described boxers as having punch-drunk syndrome. While researchers would discover instances of similar behavior (tremors, speech hesitancy, mental slowness, muscular issues) in boxers and other brain trauma victims over the next 75 years, they didn’t confirm exactly what the cause was in most cases.

In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu examined the body of former Pittsburgh Steelers football player Mike Webster, who’d been behaving erratically shortly before his death. Dr. Omalu determined the tragic nature of Webster’s brain trauma and named the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Dr. Omalu published a major paper about CTE in Neurosurgery, a prominent medical journal, in 2005 about its incidence in NFL players. Resulting from multiple head injuries, such as can happen with tackles and collisions in football, CTE significantly affects behavior (aggression), mood (depression), and cognition (memory loss). Extreme cases are linked to dementia.

Over the next several years, the NFL has been accused of trying to discredit Dr. Omalu’s work. Dr. Omalu went on, however, to study additional football players and attract other medical experts to assist him in his research. The discovery of CTE and Dr. Omalu’s story were portrayed in the 2015 film Concussion, which further spread awareness of CTE to a wider audience.

By the late 2010s, CTE research and awareness had advanced to the point that it had massive effects on football and athletics in general. The NFL was involved in a number of concussion-related lawsuits and took strides to improve their policies and image, including donating millions to brain research.

Some active and former NFL players began to discourage parents from allowing children to participate in full-tackle football, and the NFL altered the rules to disallow any player who suffered a concussion during play to immediately reenter the game. By 2016, MMA fighters and professional wrestlers were also being diagnosed with CTE—and pursuing lawsuits against their professional organizations.

How is CTE used in real life?

CTE has rocked the world of sports since it gained national attention in the 2000s. Public concerns for player safety has led to many people taking issue with the big hits many have argued have been used as the main allure of watching contact sports. The acronym CTE is frequently used by doctors, journalists, athletes, lawyers, sports organizations, and public health and policy experts.


More examples of CTE

“Snoop Dogg Proud Of His Son For Quitting Football After Studying Dangers Of CTE”
—Chantilly Post, HotNewHipHop (headline), September 2018

“im glad the NFL made all these rule changes. the players are people, not just entertainment. CTE is a very dangerous thing, and giving athletes CTE just for your entertainment and “big hit football” isn’t right. it’s dehumanizing.”
—@ian_barthel24, September 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use CTE in a sentence