Acute and chronic sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are a substantial public health concern. Various types of acute TBI can occur in sport, but detection and management of cerebral concussion is of greatest importance as mismanagement of this syndrome can lead to persistent or chronic postconcussion syndrome (CPCS) or diffuse cerebral swelling. Chronic TBI encompasses a spectrum of disorders that are associated with long-term consequences of brain injury, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), dementia pugilistica, post-traumatic parkinsonism, post-traumatic dementia and CPCS. CTE is the prototype of chronic TBI, but can only be definitively diagnosed at autopsy as no reliable biomarkers of this disorder are available. Whether CTE shares neuropathological features with CPCS is unknown. Evidence suggests that participation in contact-collision sports may increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer disease, but the data are conflicting. In this Review, the spectrum of acute and chronic sport-related TBI is discussed, highlighting how examination of athletes involved in high-impact sports has advanced our understanding of pathology of brain injury and enabled improvements in detection and diagnosis of sport-related TBI.