The National Football League, a multi-billion-dollar industry, is facing a neurological crisis and is scrambling to save the game. With league averages reaching 2.3 billion dollars, why are teams not properly protecting their investments—the players?
Doctor Bennet Omalu has been doing concussion related research since 2002. Initially looking for a “punch drunk syndrome” in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, Omalu discovered a connection between football and head injuries that was startling at best.
The NFL did everything to thwart Omalu’s research by denying of the severity of head injuries and through initial “findings” that concussions were a relatively safe injury to sustain. The NFL began caring about potential brain damage after numerous class action lawsuits were filed. Deaths, mental deterioration and side effects such as memory loss, suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety came to fruition and threatened the League’s money.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was a brain disease found in those with a history of boxing. More recently, CTE has been found in professional athletes who play football.
“Over 90 percent of American football players suffer from this disease,” Omalu said in an interview with Time magazine.
100 years ago more people would go to championship bouts than could fit into any NFL stadium today. Boxing and other contact sports lose precedence as it becomes clear how dangerous head trauma can be.
The NFL recently banned helmet-to-helmet contact in an effort to keep concussions to a minimum. However, big hits are not the only cause to concussions. It is believed minimal contact hits over time produce the same effects.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has also had to address issues regarding the NFL and its new “concussion protocol.” The NCAA adopted a new “targeting” penalty, where leading with the crown of the helmet on any hit immediately results in an ejection and fifteen-yard penalty.
Both the NFL and NCAA regulations have changed the game by diluting it in order to protect the sport’s image and encourage the newest round of players to don a helmet. However, the game of football is still fundamentally unsafe.
Professional athletes Calvin Johnson and Marshawn Lynch have stepped away from the game in order to preserve their health. Many other players have retired in their prime due to the health risks associated with football.
There is no such thing as “safe” football. Upon impact, an athlete’s brain is slammed against the sides of their skull causing concussions and irreversible damage to the brain.
Football has and always will be a physical game. Players are only getting bigger and faster while the NFL and NCAA scramble to throw a Hail Mary and solve the concussion crisis. Other than completely abandoning traditional football, it will take serious innovation and creative thinking to make it a safe sport.
-Jakob Rodriguez is a journalism freshman