Study finds 96 percent of former NFL players had CTE BY Michael O'keeffe NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Friday, September 18, 2015, 12:34 PM A A A Share this URL Al Messerschmidt Archive/Getty Images Hall of Fame Chargers linebacker Junior Seau also had CTE, an exam following his suicide found. More bad news for the NFL on the concussion front: Ninety-six percent of deceased pro football players examined by researchers have tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain-destroying disease that has been linked to the deaths of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Mike Webster. Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have found CTE in 87 of 91 former NFL players tested, PBS' Frontline reported Friday. In total, the researchers found CTE in 131 of 165 players who played for pro, semi-pro, college and high school teams. "People think that we're blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we're sensationalizing it," said Ann McKee, the director of the brain bank, a collaboration between the VA and BU. "My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have no problem in identifying it in hundreds of players." FOLLOW THE DAILY NEWS SPORTS ON FACEBOOK. "LIKE" US HERE. CTE is believed to come from repetitive blows to the head and football players are especially at risk because of the thousands of hits they suffer in practices and games during the course of their careers. The repeated shots to the head damage nerve fibers, which release proteins that pool in the brain and kill cells in regions that regulate emotions and critical thinking. Forty percent of those who tested positive were offensive or defensive linemen, players who are hit on virtually every play of a game. CTE has been linked to dementia, memory loss, depression and other conditions. NFL/AP Dave Duerson, the former Bears and Giants safety, had brain damage when he committed suicide, researchers said in 2011. Frontline noted that the figures come with a caveat: Players who donated their brains for research most likely suspected that they had the disease, leaving researchers with a skewed population of subjects. "We are dedicated to making football safer and continue to take steps to protect players, including rule changes, advanced sideline technology, and expanded medical resources," an NFL spokesman said. In its 2015 Health and Safety Report, the NFL said concussions dropped 35%, from 173 in 2012 to 112 in 2014. Frontline disputed that claim, saying an analysis of information reported by teams during the preseason shows a smaller decrease of 28%. In court papers filed last year in connection to a class-action head trauma lawsuit brought by former players, the NFL acknowledged that it expects about a third of its retirees will develop long-term cognitive problems. A federal judge granted approval to a $1 billion settlement to that case in April, although many players have opted out. The NFL donated $1 million to McKee's lab in 2010, but the league attempted for years to refute any links between football and brain disease. The NFL's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee concluded in a series of scientific papers released between 2003 and 2009 that pro football players "do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain." The controversy surrounding the NFL's concussion crisis will likely sharpen later this year with the release of "Concussion," a film starring Will Smith. The film focuses on Bennet Omalu, the neurosurgeon who first linked CTE to repetitive head trauma. League doctors publicly assailed Omalu's work and demanded a retraction of an article he wrote for a medical journal.