Football is America’s most popular sport. Whether it is a child’s Pee Wee football game, or watching an NFL Sunday night game, we Americans cannot get enough of our football. Over two-hundred million independent viewers watch the NFL every year (Easterbrooke). With all this demand for football, it is
hard to see the physical toll the game takes on the players that entertain us. There is a seventy-five percent chance that a football player will sustain a concussion during their career (Sports Concussion Institute). That is the highest risk by far out of all the major sports. Football viewers see huge bone crushing hits all the time, from freakishly large athletes who were built to hit.
It is no surprise we see players being injured at such a high rate. Concussions are not to be taken lightly. There are many dangerous long- and short-term health effects caused by concussions. “Research shows that athletes who have repeated concussions are more likely to get long-term brain damage, including a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that mimics dementia” (Shaw). Something needs to be done to combat these serious health problems facing current and past NFL players. This report will bring awareness to the problems of and possible solutions to NFL concussions. Concussion
“A concussion is defined as a complex pathophysiological process that affects the brain, typically induced by trauma to the brain. It can be caused either by a direct blow to the head, or an indirect blow to the body, causing neurological impairments that may resolve spontaneously” (Sports Concussion Institute). A concussion is a much more serious injury than a broken arm or leg.
Concussions have many symptoms or indicators, such as: “Headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, delayed verbal response, delayed motor response, confusion, difficulty concentrating. disorientation, slurred or incoherent speech, incoordination, ringing in the ears, inability to remember recent or past events, loss of consciousness, sleep disturbances, photophobia (sensitivity to light), sensitivity to loud noises, and fogginess” (Zeigler).
These symptoms can be prevalent for a few seconds, or in some cases, could affect the individual for life. “Forty percent of athletes recover in one week, sixty percent in two weeks, eighty percent in three weeks, and ninety percent in four weeks” (Zeigler). For the ninety percent of people who are symptom free in four weeks after their first concussion, they will most likely go through life without any lingering effects from the injury. For the ten percent of people who still experience concussion symptoms after four weeks, they have an extremely high risk of getting second impact syndrome, CTE, and/or permanent amnesia. CTE
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disease that results in behaviors similar to Alzheimer’s disease. CTE is the only known preventable form of dementia. CTE is caused by repetitive trauma to the brain. This disease has also been to affect boxers since the early 1900’s. CTE was only thought to be a disease boxers contract. Science has only recently found that CTE affects football players and other athletes as well. Mike Webster
Mike Webster played center for multiple NFL teams from 1974 to 1990. During his long career, he sustained multiple concussions. Webster lived a life of depression and severe dementia after his football career ended. In 2002, he died at the age of fifty from a heart attack. When the coroner examined his body, he examined Webster’s brain to see if it was comparable to brain damage normally seen in a boxer. Until then, this examination had never been done on a football player. The coroner concluded that Webster’s brain was the same as a boxer that had CTE.
CTE is a disease easily spotted on an exposed brain. A normal brain is white, but a brain with CTE has large amounts of brown dead matter throughout. “Mike Webster’s brain was almost completely brown with decayed brain deposits throughout” (Head Games). Mike Webster was only the start of what would become a massive scientific inquiry of CTE, and NFL players with the disease.
Figure 1 shows multiple degrees of CTE infected brain tissue. Source: Boston University. “What Is CTE?” Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. N.p., 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. Second Impact Syndrome
Second Impact Syndrome occurs when an athlete returns to play a sport too early after suffering from an initial concussion. This syndrome is a very serious and oftentimes deadly health problem for athletes. Initially, after receiving a hard hit, an athlete may not lose consciousness; he or she may just look stunned. The athlete may also be able to make it to the sideline where the athlete may suddenly collapse within minutes.
The condition worsens rapidly with loss of consciousness, loss of eye movement, dilated pupils, coma, and then respiratory failure. This can all take place immediately on the sideline. Because this is a life-threatening emergency, life-saving measures must be taken within minutes for there to be any hope for the athlete to live. Treatment should be undertaken to maintain an airway and to provide rescue breathing and CPR if necessary. The only viable way to prevent second impact syndrome is proper diagnosing and to get proper medical treatment of the first concussion. NFL
Former Player Conditions
The NFL is an organization that many Americans are very passionate about. Millions of people tune in for every game to watch their favorite teams do battle on a Sunday afternoon. Many of us do not care about an athlete’s health effects during and after their career, as long as our favorite team does well. Many NFL players suffer career ending injuries and concussions while playing, or sustain so many concussions during their career that after they step away from the NFL, they become a shell of their former selves. Mike Webster was not the only player to die young because of CTE.
Andre Waters, who sustained over 20 concussions during his career, tested positive for CTE, and committed suicide because of severe depression as a result of the CTE on his brain. Junior Seau is the most recent and most famous of former NFL players to commit suicide. Junior was a Super Bowl-winning NFL linebacker. Thanks to the newfound awareness for CTE, the public immediately questioned if Seau had CTE. It was eventually found that Seau had CTE on his brain, affecting his brain’s ability to think logically. “Junior was aware of the disease affecting his former teammates and we can speculate he may have consciously shot himself in the heart to preserve his brain for medical research” (ESPN).
Cases like these show that there is widespread cases of CTE in former NFL players. Unfortunately a lot of players have trouble coping with the disease. Professional athletes do not always get the luxury of playing a full career, for their health usually declines from them getting a concussion. Isaiah Kacyvenski, former Seattle Seahawks Linebacker suffered a concussion during one of his games and did not report it to anybody. The following week of play, he hit an opposing player and Kacyvenski suffered a severe concussion, making his extremities temporarily paralyzed for a few days. In result, he never played another NFL game for the rest of his life. Kacyvenski and eleven other NFL players are currently filing a lawsuit against the NFL.
Kacyvenski and his attorneys allege that “the League failed to properly treat head injuries in spite of prevailing medical evidence and the prevalent use of Toradol administered by the team to the players as a pain-masking agent, leading the players to develop effects of brain injury”. (Head Games) Kacyvenski and his colleagues have a very strong case against the NFL and this case could break grounds for a new standard for information available to players regarding their safety.
Figure 2 shows the concussion and depression in retired football players for the varying number of concussions sustained. Source: University of Wisconsin. “3. Caution about Concussion.” 3. Caution about Concussion. N.p., 2003. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Current Player Conditions
Jahvid Best, a star running back for the Detroit Lions sustained a season ending concussion at the college level, but was thought to be fine after his therapy. Best played one-and-a-half seasons with the Lions before sustaining yet another concussion in his career. his time, Best’s brain remained in a post-concussion-like state; he has since stepped away from football with hope that his brain will heal so that he can someday return to playing football. Most of the evidence on CTE suggests that Best should never return to an impact sport for the rest of his life. Despite what the doctors tell him, Best is still hoping to someday find a way to safely play football again for the Detroit Lions.
Figure 3 shows Jahvid Best’s season-ending concussion during his college career at Cal. Source: Riley, Riley, Duncan. “Jahvid Best Injury (Video) Jahvid Best Injury (Video).” The Inquisitr Jahvid Best Injury Video Comments. N.p., 07 Nov. 2009. Web. 06 Mar. 2013. NFL Concussion Cover-Up
The NFL is not interested in making people fearful of the game of football. The League’s cover up of risks of concussions is evident when you examine the 1994 findings by the MTBI Committee. The MTBI Committee was set up by the NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to investigate MTBI, or Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries. The study was funded entirely by the NFL and done by NFL doctors and scientists.
The report they released was highly criticized as being highly misleading, and in some cases, flat out lies to sway the public’s and League’s perception on players’ health. “The study found that no evidence of worsening injury or chronic cumulative effects from multiple concussions, the suit says. In addition, in a related study, the committee found that many NFL players can be safely allowed to return to play on the day of a concussion, if they are without symptoms and cleared by a doctor” (Head Games) . This study is nothing more than propaganda to give players the peace of mind to keep playing and making money for the league.
“However, it was not until June 2010 that the NFL acknowledged that concussions can lead to dementia, memory loss, CTE and related symptoms by publishing [a] warning to every player and team, and they had known this information prior to 1994” (Hayes). These acknowledgements made by the NFL show just how much they are trying to cover up the risks and dangers of repeated concussions. The NFL cannot claim they are looking out for the players’ best interests when they have covered up vital health information for decades about the risks from playing football. The NFL needs to be more proactive in educating their players and the general public about any health and safety risks athletes face when playing football. Improvements to the Game
The NFL has been more proactive as of late about player safety under the guidance of new Commissioner Rodger Goodell. Goodell has tried to reign in the violence the game has been associated by trying to minimize player injuries Goodell has instituted the rule to move the kickoff up 10 yards to reduce the number of dangerous run backs to try and make the game safer. He also is penalizing players through game penalties, fines and suspensions for dangerous hits they inflict on opposing players. This upcoming season, the Commissioner is considering penalizing the ball carrier from lowering his head to an opposing player trying to tackle him.
Even with all these rules and regulations to curve the game, big hits are in the nature of the game and are bound to happen. A player only has his pads and helmet to protect him from any sort of impact to his body. Football pads and helmets have been relatively unchanged in the NFL for decades. Helmets have always done a decent job at protecting the skull from fractures, but are not very good at preventing brain injuries. In recent years, private companies have developed high tech helmets to specifically protect the brain from damage. A company in Stockholm has developed a helmet called the Multidirectional Impact Protection System Helmet, or MIPS helmet for short. “It features a low-friction layer right next to the player’s head.
When the player takes a hit, this layer slides, allowing the helmet to rotate slightly, without pulling the head and brain along with it; the helmet turns, the head doesn’t. It’s an elegant approach to a difficult problem, and a far cry from the “more padding” solution” (The Verge). Its helmet designs like the MIPS helmet that break the mold of what is thought of as a traditional helmet, or what a helmet is supposed to do that the NFL needs to take a look at and consider using and developing in their sport.
Figure 4 displays a diagram of the MIPS helmet. Source: Foster, Tom. “The Helmet That Can Save Football.” Popular Science. N.p., 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. Even with all the advances in helmet technologies, a helmet cannot simply just be worn by a player once it is developed. There are numerous rules and regulations that hamper a helmet developer from putting their products on NFL players’ heads.
The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or NOCSAE, makes the rules on helmet use decides which helmets go on the field. The NOCSAE is notorious for not changing their ways and slowing down development and innovation on helmets, which is why we see the same type of helmet now that players wore when they first started making plastic helmets. We need to see the NOCSAE and the NFL working towards and embracing innovation in helmet technologies to help reduce concussions. Summary
Concussions are a health problem that people need to be more aware of. Concussions cause the dangerous disease CTE that has already claimed the lives of many athletes in the NFL and in other sports. We are doing research on CTE but a lot more needs to be done. If the NFL is going to be safer they need to relinquish all of their information and research on player brain injuries. Some good things are being done to rule changes to make the game safer, but it is still not enough. There is a fine line however between changing rules and changing the game, which the NFL will have to navigate carefully. One of the better answers to these brain injuries is to improve the helmet protecting the head. Many developers have made ingenious new ideas to combat the concussion epidemic in football. It is up to the NFL to adopt the new innovations to the football helmet to drastically improve player safety.
A person’s brain is the most important part of the body. It just makes sense to want to protect it as much as possible. As the public becomes more aware of the dangers football has on a player’s brain people may reconsider playing football. If the NFL is going to have a future, they must make their game safer. If people see less players effected by concussions on TV public perception of football will improve. Something clearly needs to be done to combat these serious health problems facing current and past NFL players.
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