Any young football player whether in little league, high school, or college football would most likely tell you their dream one day is to make it into the NFL. Not only will they get to do what they love, but if they're good enough, they'll get to live a luxurious lifestyle while also living their dream. But at what cost? Football is a contact sport where huge bodies collide at high speeds often causing damage to bodies, in particular the head and brain. Repeated concussions caused by these massive hits has consequences with the most serious being CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a brain disease caused by repeated hits to the skull and it is not able to be diagnosed with certainty until after death during an autopsy. Though the first former NFL player was diagnosed in the early 2000's, the NFL only in recent years acknowledged the link between concussions and CTE. Let's look at who it affects, what is being done by the NFL, and why it's not worth the risk.
Concussions are common in the world of playing football. It comes with playing the game and they can be frequent and most of the time severe. The problem with this is our brains aren't hard organs. Every time a person slams their head, the brain bounces against the skull and more times than not causes a concussion. This doesn't even take into account the other hits to players heads that maybe don't reach the concussion stage, but still prove a risk to the brain. CTE is directly caused by this and results in changes to the brain. These changes cannot be viewed inside of the brain while the athlete is living, but common traits players go onto show while living has made it easier to spot when a former player is likely living with it. There are four stages to the disease. Since it can't be diagnosed immediately, CTE continues to grow inside of the brain. Stage one of the disease starts out as some memory loss and headaches. However, when it reaches stage four, most of the former NFL players have difficulty in speaking, show aggressiveness, severe loss of memory and concentration, and depression.
Researchers have been able to diagnose CTE because brains of the players that have passed away have been donated for this research. What a lot of these former players have in common is the fact that they all had shown a significant change in their behavior including suicidal tendencies. Some of those changes were noticed by family and friends hence why their brains were donated and later were confirmed to have suffered from CTE. Out of 202 deceased players, 177 of them showed signs of disease. Aaron Hernandez, Junior Seau, and Dave Duerson all committed suicide and it was later discovered they had all been suffering from CTE. Duerson and Seau had both requested before their deaths to have their brains examined for the disease.
The NFL has admitted that they are now certain there is a common link between concussions and head injuries on the field and CTE. However, admitting something after you have been well aware of it and denying it for years doesn't really do much for those that are suffering through it. I feel as if the NFL waited to come out with this until the issue was no longer able to be debated. They have been accused of hiding the risks of developing CTE and failing to disclose to players and coaches the link of concussions to the disease. This turned into a 1 billion dollar lawsuit between them and thousands of former players of the league. The NFL now has been doing its best to clean up the mess by implementing new rules such as fining and even ejecting players for purposely lowering their heads when tackling a player. They even claim to be using "safer helmets." The problem though is they're not actually doing a better job. In fact, concussions from 2016-2017 rose from 250 to 291. You can say you're doing a better job, but it means nothing if you're not actually doing it.
I get it, football is a dangerous sport and it was designed to be that way. What bothers me is the lack of compassion that the NFL has continued to show over the years to it's players and how manipulative they have been in trying to hide these things until they were cornered with no way out. What bothers me more is the majority of football players in this country are not in the NFL. Many are young kids. So the fact that the NFL could not set an example for these young men and admit to their mistakes is disheartening. Maybe they could have made coaches of these players more aware of this disease and how it is linked to head injuries. The facts are what they are and I'm sure the sport won't change much in terms of concussions and other injuries, but put the facts out there so these players can at the very least make informed decisions. Let them know what they are signing up for.
Thanks for reading! See you soon!