Concussions and Domestic Violence in the NFL

The amount of legal trouble that NFL players are in from violence is a direct cause of multiple concussions and hypoxia injuries to the brain according to one famous pathologist. However additional research shows that there may be other underlying causes such as drug and alcohol abuse or the genetic disposition of the players.

A concussion is a sort of stressful brain injury that results from multiple blows to the head. Concussions occur when a player gets knocked by another player on the head and this makes the brain move within the skull, bashing the brain against the inside of the skull, causing injury to the brain.

Common symptoms of concussions include memory loss, headache, mood change, confusion, and aggression. It is not surprising that our personality can be changed after a concussion following a brain injury. When the brain is altered, it changes its understanding, experience and how it expresses emotions. This makes it hard to understand our feeling or process them.

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Concussions and the results of multiple concussion in NFL players were studied in depth by Dr. Bennet Omalu who was an expert in the field of forensic neuropathology – the study of the brain to determine the cause of death. Dr. Omalu a native of Nigeria who was new to the United States was assigned the autopsy of Mike Webster a famous Pittsburg Steeler football player who played in the 1970s and 1980s winning many football championships. Dr. Omalus discovery during this autopsy would start the process of rattling the medical community and the NFL for many years to come.

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Since the early 1900s, American football has been around until to date. The game involves players tackling one another until one is on the ground. Football has continuously remained a full-interaction game. Injuries have stayed part of the game throughout the years and this makes the NFL take their time in increasing the safety of players. Today there are many cases involving NFL concussions and domestic violence.

Today’s competitive nature of sports associations calls for athletes to be both physically and mentally aggressive and forceful. This aggressiveness explains why so many athletes are committing violent crimes because they usually have an aggressive mentality when they are off the field (Card, 2016). Athletes are expected by society to give flawless performances in the arenas and stadiums. The admirers have developed habituated to hard-hitting, highflying shows of activeness and fitness, and oftentimes an athlete’s achievement gains them a raised status in society with special treats that most people dream of having. Athletes feel that they should be shown certain respect by fans when not on the field as their careers get bigger and bigger and most of the athletes become angered when treated like any other person by their fans or people around them.

The other cause of domestic violence from the NFL players could be a genetic disposition from the power that they feel they must impose. For instance, when a child is growing in an aggressive environment, that child integrates this violent attitude into its behaviors and applies this aggressive conduct to other aspects of their lifetime. Some people argue “I can get my way if I am aggressive”. An athlete’s perception and judgment of their environment are impacted by these aggressive attitudes and tendencies they have. An aggressive athlete develops disregard for the opponent(s) that their aggression is being aimed at because their judgment becomes clouded by aggression. Sports such as football reinforce their players to be aggressive but this aggression, in turn, leads some athletes to commit violent criminal acts out of rages such as beating up their women and assaults. One of the most common confusing methods of felonious action is violence by men against their family members.

An athlete engages in aggressive and violent behavior when he indulges himself in alcohol and other drug s abuse which act on the brain mechanism. Most athletes abuse drugs to improve or enhance their athletic performance, deal with career challenges, cope with mental illness, treat physical injuries and cope up with stress (Brown, 2018). Abuse of drugs amongst the NFL players is common and is associated with severe long-standing effects, which include, overdose, arrests, and bans from a sport.

Mike Webster grew up on a potato farm in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, barely survived a childhood of crippling poverty and regular beatings by his dad. (Concussion pg 93) Is this history of abuse part of Webster’s problem or is it what Dr. Omalu discovered during the autopsy and study of his brain? This question will never have a definite answer, however, Dr. Omalu is convinced that it is the brain injury that changed Mike Webster into “a crazy man”.

During the autopsy of Mike Weber Dr. Omalu was surprised to see so much wear and tear to his body. His blocky forehead was one massive scar. Webster’s hands was huge as hams, the fingers mangled and twisted like the roots of a willow tree. His feet were cracked open and bent in places you never knew feet could bend. The skin on the thighs had been seared over and over again by the prongs of a Taser. (Concussion pg 92.) Dr. Omalu was intrigued with the possibility of what Mike Webster’s brain would look like if football battered his body this way what could it have done to his brain.

Dr. Omalu placed the brain in a bucket of formaldehyde until the brain hardened enough to slice. Once he was able to get these slices he took the brain slices to the lab at University of Pittsburg where he had just finished his neuropathology training and knew the technicians and their particular expertise. Dr. Omalu picked Jonette Werley to assist him with the processing of the brain. Jonette Werley was to shave each block of the brain that Dr. Omalu brought to her into microscopic sliver, mount them onto glass slides and stain them with the antibodies requested by Dr. Omalu. The stains are to bring any unusual patters of cells into view. (Concussion pg108)

It took months before Dr. Omalu was able to look at the slides and discover that all through Mike Webster’s brain were Tau tangles. Tau tangles were kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing healthy brain cells. In Mike Webster’s brain it was in the region of the brain responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning. This was why boxers went crazy and why Mike Webster went crazy to. (Concussion pg124)

In 1997 the American Academy of Neurology established guidelines for concussed athletes returning to play. The ANA (American Academy of Neurology) stated that once you got one concussion, you were more likely to get another. After several concussions, it took less of a blow to cause the concussion and a longer period of time to recover. The ANA defined concussions into three grades of severity; from transient confusion a grade 1 to complete loss of consciousness as a grade 3. The ANA suggested that players with a grade 3 concussion not return to play until they were asymptomatic for one week and if another grade 3 concussion was suffered that they be withheld from play for at least one month. The NFL rejected these guidelines stating there was no research to support the finding of the ANA. The NFL trusting sources with no experience in the matter of the brain and brain injuries over neurologist and independent scientists that study brain injuries appalled Dr. Omalu.

There has been a long battle with the NFL over concussions and brain injuries. In the middle of this battle Dr. Julian Bailes a neurosurgeon from Louisiana who had worked for a decade as the Steelers team doctor contaced Dr. Omalu. Dr. Bailes said that he had known Mike Webster well. (Concussion pg162) He knew brains and he knew concussions. He called to tell Dr. Omalu that he believed him and that he was studying concussions in his lab in West Virginia by concussion rates and examining the resulting damage to brain tissue. Dr. Bailes was chairing a study at the University of North Carolinas Center for the Study of Retired Athletes. His group had surveyed thousands of retired players, and in 2003 had found that players who had suffered multiple concussions were three times more likely to suffer clinical depression than the normal non athlete male of the same age. (Concussion pg163) When these findings were reported to the NFL they responded negatively. NFL found the study flawed and would not accept any information from the study.

It took several more deaths of NFL players at an early age or by suicide with the same Tau tangle findings in the brain at autopsy before the NFL took concussions seriously. In 2010 the NFL changed the contact policy. We’re going to be a very proactive in doing what we can to strike an appropriate balance. We do have a contact sport. At the same time, what can we do to protect the players’ safety?”

The reworded rules prohibit a player from launching himself off the ground and using his helmet to strike a player in a defenseless posture in the head or neck. The old rule only applied to receivers getting hit, but now it will apply to everyone. Also, new this season, when a player loses his helmet, the play is immediately whistled dead. And now, during field goal and extra-point attempts, the defense cannot position any player on the line directly across from the snapper, who’s considered to be in a defenseless position.

There is articles out there that point more toward violence from drug and alcohol use, however, you cannot argue science and facts that multiple concussions if causing a change and permanent damage to a player’s brain.

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Concussions and Domestic Violence in the NFL. (2020, Sep 15). Retrieved from

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