Concussion, the recently released movie starring Will Smith, was a hit in theatres, however it also served to bring light to the NFL’s “dirty little secret”. Increasingly overwhelming evidence shows that if you play the game of football long enough, you are increasingly likely to suffer from long-term brain injuries. Recently, disturbing evidence came to light:
“A study that will be presented at next week’s American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meeting offers one of the most conclusive pieces of evidence yet of a definitive link between brain injury and playing football.
It shows that “more than 40 percent of retired National Football League players … had signs of traumatic brain injury based on sensitive MRI scans called diffusion tensor imaging,” according to a press release from the AAN.” (Washington Post 2016)
Junior Seau, Adrian Robinson and Dave Duerson ended their own lives. Javon Belcher killed his girlfriend and then himself. Jim McMahon sometimes forgets his name. All showed signs of CTE (a form of brain damage). These are only a few of the known sufferers in a long line of former NFL players suffering from head trauma, and there is likely unfortunately many more who will come to light. Some, unfortunately, will likely be in the form of tragedy.
These sobering cases raise ethical and moral questions regarding the sport of football. We in North America are obsessed with football: whether it be watching the NFL, playing fantasy football, or playing/watching high school or college football. It is a point of local pride to play high school football and the dream of many young football players to play at the college level. This dream becomes the obsession of many in the pursuit of playing professionally. However we need to question the morality of encouraging our youth to partake in a sport where there is almost guaranteed chance of injury and significant change of long-term brain damage.
Speaking from playing high school and CIS football, there is nothing quite like it. I’ve played baseball and hockey at fairly high levels and had the opportunity to play in front of large crowds and in some incredible venues and locations (The MetroDome in Minnesota, The stadium used in “A League of their Own” in Indiana, The Rogers Centre in Toronto, played one game for the Canadian Junior National Baseball Team in front of 1000 people in my hometown). However, there just isn’t anything quite like running out under the lights on a Friday night and playing football in front of hundreds or thousands of people. The adrenaline rush is unparralelled. So i can understand why parents and coaches want youth to experience the game of football, it has taught me some incredible life lessons and provided me with countless memories.
However, I also know that i’ve been concussed at least 3 times from helmet to helmet contact playing football, probably more. I’ve separated my shoulder three times, dislocated it twice and had surgery to repair a torn labrum and it still aches every day. I tore every ligament and the cartilage in my ankle which required major surgery and now clicks when i walk. Some of my fingers are crooked and i have countless scars. I’ve watched my brother, a gifted linebacker who was being heavily recruited to play university football, tear the same ACL and MCL twice in his right knee. I’m not sure of the long-term effects that these injuries will have on me as time progresses, but I view the injuries as a blessing in disguise, forcing me out of the sport before more serious damage was done. Yes football is an incredible sport that can serve to provide structure and an outlet for youth, but at what cost? When do we draw the line as more and more research showing the negative effects of the sport come to light?
I truly believe we need to question whether, given its current state, it is ethical to encourage youth to play football and provide it in our schools. However, as long as the NFL and NCAA football exists and continues to thrive, market forces will continue to push children into playing football. So perhaps the real issue is the commercialization of sport, which provides ever increasing monetary incentives for youth to “chase the carrot” so to speak. Perhaps the issue is more socio-economic, maybe bridging the ever increasing gaps in social classes would reduce the need of impoverished young athletes to relentlessly chase the dream of playing professionally.Maybe we need to consider how we play football, the increasing size and speed of the athletes is making it harder and harder to avoid devastating collisions. Medical research, according to the Washington Post (2016), suggests that the repeated collisions involved in football drastically increase the probability of long-term brain damage. Yet local communities glorify their high school football players and college and professional players are idolized.
None of these solutions are clear cut, nor are they intended to be. This blog is to serve to start the discussion on whether or not allowing our youth to play football is morally right. The recent, very public issue of CTE and its relation to the NFL is an encouraging start, as the beginning of any effective change almost always starts with dialogue, which this has facilitated. This has resulted in an increased focus on player safety, which is encouraging. But until the game itself changes, it doesn’t seem likely that these issues will cease, and as more data becomes available, the severity of these issues will only increase.
Andrews, T. (2016, April 12). 40 Percent of NFL Players suffer from Brain Injuries, New Study Shows. Washington Post. Retrieved November 1, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/04/12/40-percent-of-former-nfl-players-suffer-from-brain-damage-new-study-shows/