Caution with Concussions
This past week the general public showed outrage, shook their fists, and grabbed their pitchforks at the NFL again. This time it wasn't over yet another domestic violence case, it wasn't over people's misguided views of a peaceful protest; once again, the mob has come at the NFL for the core issue of their business: concussions.
I've had several conversations with my dad about what the future of football looks like and we both are in agreeance (for once. Still working on that whole Obama thing with him) that the NFL as we know it will cease to exist in the next 30 years because of just how dangerous of a sport tackle football is.
The difference between my dad and I, two lifelong football fans and spectators, saying that the NFL has a problem and the non-football watching public saying the NFL has a problem is experience and nuance. We watch and follow football all year long, non-football watchers do not. So when a report came out that 110 out of 111 brains in a study of deceased football players were found to have CTE, at first I was of course floored at the sheer percentage, my next step was to put things into perspective. CTE is the bane of the National Football League's existence (well, that and DANCING), and is a horrible outcome of playing violent sports with horrible consequences for both the athletes and those around said athletes.
However, there are some areas of these reports and the reactions accompanying them that need a bit of nuance attached to them:
- First and foremost, the only way to properly test for CTE is to test a human's brain once they are dead, and many of the players who donated their brains to this research more than likely had inklings that they already had CTE.
- Brains that were used in this study belonged to players who took part in the National Football League at a time when equipment was archaic compared to today's modern helmets and shock absorbing pads. It's like the difference between a cell phone from the 90s and smartphones of the present day.
- Perhaps most importantly the various football organizations of the world, mainly the NCAA and NFL, have instituted rules over the years to try and reduce the number of serious brain injuries that take place in game. Teams at higher levels generally don't have as much hard contact in drills, players are taught better tackling techniques that don't lead with the head, head-to-head shots are penalized by heavy fines, ejections, and suspensions, and the NFL has better concussion detecting procedures and rules (albeit with an added grain of salt that those protocols aren't followed properly all the time, which is a completely different discussion).
- These players CHOSE to play football. Anybody who has ever played football before knows it's a violent sport and there is a certainty that you will get hurt. The NFL and NCAA didn't force these guys to play, they ultimately chose this life.
This study looks horrifying when looked at in a headline, and yeah the NFL has a serious problem they need to address when it comes to the propensity of brain injuries in its participants. It does however feel like people are having some harsh reactions to this study from people who don't really care about football generally. They don't need to shut the sport down, these guys are still being compensated with millions of dollars (unless you are in college, in which case don't worry, I'll address the football slavery that is the NCAA some other time), and there are being preventative measures put in place to reduce head injuries.
Roger Goodell is still a clown though.