The NFL once claimed, “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.” No concussions here!, they said. Quick, look at the pretty cheerleaders!
The truth, of course, is a prevalent, extreme form of brain damage known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. Just how common is it? 87 of 91 former players tested positive for the disease. More than 4,000 players have brought lawsuits, arguing that the NFL didn’t inform them of the risks.
Others are quitting before they even get started. San Francisco 49’er Chris Borland walked away from a $3 million dollar deal after suffering two concussions, saying it wasn’t worth it. Even President Obama has stated that if he had a son, he’d have to think long and hard before allowing him to play the game.
Recently the controversy moved beyond the small screen. Will Smith’s movie, “Concussion,” is turning America’s concern with sport induced brain trauma into box office success. From courtroom to locker-room, the NFL is facing a crisis on every level. Though the league’s $7.2 billion dollar 2014 revenue stream is enough to pay for ten missions to Pluto, every penny of it is now at risk.
Never has an American sport been this successful and devastating.
No One-Hit Wonders
This past November, quarterback Case Keenum was permitted to stay in the game after an obvious concussion. The footage is disturbing: Head in hands, he struggles to stand. While incidents like Keenum’s ignite media controversy, it’s repetitive, not occasional impact that creates the greatest risk. To this point, offensive and defensive linemen are essentially battering rams in jerseys, taking a hit every play.
If you think that CTE is reserved for the pros, you’re wrong. It’s been found “in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or high school.”
We are all aware of the consequences: “Most Americans now believe that teams need to do more to protect their players from head injuries.” But setting tackling limits is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes a day instead of 10. You’re still not doing yourself any favors.
So what’s the answer?
The first step is to understand that whether you’re playing football, biking, or skiing, a helmet will save your life, not your brain. Even though 70% of skiers and snowboarders wear helmets, (nearly 3x the number from 2003), the number of head injuries has increased 60 percent over a seven-year period.
While part of that increase is attributed to awareness and increased reporting, we can’t ignore the fact that advanced gear has boosted our egos, allowing us to push the limits beyond our control.
Now that controversy has been informed by facts, professional players can decide whether fame and fortune are worth the risk.
But no one’s compensating college and high school players for the damage they encounter; limitations must be set in place.If sports do not police themselves, others will. And for the rest of us? Whether you’re a weekend skier or marathon cycler, don’t abandon the ride, just use your brain to protect your brain. That’s why we have it.