The world of sports in America has been filled with speculation in controversy. From the use of steroids to the spread of domestic abuse of the field by certain athletes, there is no shortage of discussion. However, there is an issue that dominates the most popular sport in America, and that is the issue of head injuries in the game of football. The documentation of this topic has spread in the last couple years. These cases of head trauma have become more accessible to the public. The National Football League, NFL, and other football organizations have tried to make progress on this issue. However, there are many people who believe the actions taken have not meet sufficient enough standards to make the game safer. Many wonder how this controversy will effect the game if this is not solved. The sport of football has always been prosperous in America. Seeing no signs of slowing down for years, the game now faces its biggest opponent for prosperity it has ever faced. These injuries are not only heavily effecting the players themselves, but also the game as a whole. There are steps that need to be taken to fix this or football’s survival could be at risk.
A DISCOVERY THAT WILL CHANGE THE GAME FOREVER
Football has always been known for it’s brutality, but until recently we had no idea to what extent this brutality has effected the players. After studying the brains of former professional football players in 2002, Dr. Bennet Omula was able to site what he called, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, in the brains of these former players. This diagnosis set off the further studying of the effects of repeated blows to the head that people sustain from playing the game. The most publicized incident of this occurring in a former player is of Hall of Fame, San Diego Chargers Linebacker Junior Seau. On May 2, 2012 Seau was found dead in his home due to an apparent suicide, he was 43. Before this tragic incident, Seau’s family recounts times after his retirement from football where his behavior had changed. Seau formed certain behavioral traits that were out of character for him such as, “heavy alcohol consumption, reckless business and financial decisions, and gambling” (Azad 2). These detrimental changes even went as far as him becoming “more aggressive and sometimes violent with his close friends and family, which was reported as uncharacteristic” (Azad 2). With this high profile case, the public got to see how this disease effects the players much deeper than originally thought. The extent of which this disease as been spread is also staggering. Going back to the first case present by Dr. Omula, “evidence of CTE has been confirmed in seventy-six of the seventy-nine former professional football players who have been examined after death” (Findler 447). Another case study showed that, “of 53 of the subjects who had played football as their primary sport, 42 demonstrated evidence of CTE on autopsy” (Azad 2). This is a prolific amount of affected player that many could not fathom before the increase of exposure to this issue
WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
With this his rapid increase in awareness of CTE, concern not only for the players but for the future of the game became more prominent. One of the big factors of the future of the game is youth participation. The youth playing football is the future generation of players and allow the game to continue on as it has for years. However, since this crisis, participation at the youth level is very much at risk. Parents have started to ask questions about the safety of football and a much higher rate than ever before. High profile people such as President Barack Obama and ,NBA superstar, LeBron James have been on record that they would not let their children play football. Even high profile football players such as, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Adrian Peterson also say they would not let their sons play the game. The chart below shows what many parents are concerned about. The chart shows the amount of concussions obtained by high school and colligate athletes during the 2005-2006 school year, by sport. As you can see football has an alarming rate of concussions compared to that of which occurred in other sports. These repeated blows to the head are the main concern when it comes to cause of CTE.
Pop Warner is the largest youth football program in America, allowing it to be a good measure of the level of participation as a whole. During the time period of 2010-2012, the organization, “saw participation drop 9.5 percent between 2010-12, a sign that the concussion crisis that began in the NFL is having a dramatic impact at the lowest rungs of the sport” (Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada 1). This is a dramatic drop off of youth players taking part in the game. The figures of players playing in 2010 (248,899) and 2012 (225,287), shows just how big of an impact that this issue is having. Pop Warner’s chief medical officer, Dr. Julian Biles, confirms this by stating that, “concerns about head injuries as ‘the No. 1 cause’,” (Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada 1). If there are no solutions found to the head injury epidemic, then we can expect for these numbers to only decrease even more as time goes on.
Another area in which the NFL could be seeing this problem effect is the viewership of the games. While the Super Bowl is most always the most viewed event on television, the television ratings for regular season games has seen a decline in as recently as this year. During this current 2016 football season the NFL is experiencing a decline in viewership. While a slight drop would not be as big of a deal, “the NFL has never seen a drop as dramatic as this year’s” (Harwell 1), with ratings declining up to “15 percent compared with the entirety of last year” (Harwell 1). It is true there is no pin point reason for this occurrence, one of the main factors cited for this is the head injury controversies. A poll conducted by Seton Hall showed that up to a third, or 33 percent, of people polled on the reason for this drop in football viewership, cited the head injury controversy as the main reason.
THE DEATH OF FOOTBALL!?
The most radical train of thought on what could become of this issue, is that the NFL and football as a whole would go out of business. This outcome would send a massive shock wave that would resonate in areas even outside of the sports world and would cause a trickle down effect that would effect more than just those playing the game. The direct result of this would be the loss of jobs, not only from the players but others employed by these organizations, with number being “more than 1700 jobs lost” (Murphy 125). The economic effects would be huge for the cities and communities that house these teams. Stores, bars, and other businesses surrounding NFL stadiums could see a massive drop off in profit. Hotels in these cities that are usually filled during game weekends would lose a lot of clients and therefore see a drop off in profits as well. The equipment companies, such as helmet and shoulder pad manufacturers, could completely go out of business with the need for these products reaching close to zero. Another tragic effect of this result would be the decrease of representation of African Americans in universities. The elimination of football would result in this because, “While 15% of U.S. college-age males are black men, they account for almost half of all Division I football players . . . but only 12% of full-time male undergraduates” (Murphy 125). If these African American student athletes are eliminated from the school system that low representation of full-time male undergraduates would only grow smaller than it already is. Universities need to stay as diverse as possible to promote acceptance and equality. Another piled on effect would be the loss of a education for the student athletes that would not normally have the opportunity to go to college. “This sport has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of young men from underprivileged backgrounds,” (Murphy 125), and we can not allow for the availability of this escape route for these young men to be taken away from them.
This is a problem that must be tackled head on but there are many hurdles in the way to weather this storm. One of the main problems is the culture of football itself. Football is seen as a sport of masculinity. It teaches the importance of winning, competiveness and, most importantly to this argument, aggression. For years’ football has taught players to be “tough” and play through through injuries. This image of football must dissolve for there to be progress made on this front. The NFL and other football organizations can no longer “habitually frame masculinity with respect to injury by both explicitly and tacitly supporting a ‘warrior narrative’,” (Furness 50). We should now adopt a new mindset when it comes to this game. One that promotes the good qualities that are already preached, such as sportsmanship, teamwork, and competiveness. But at the same time we should as promote safety, awareness of risks, and proper tackling technique to allow for the next generation of players to not fall into the same issues that we are seeing today. We must this eliminate a least some of this masculine mystique to allow for the player’s safety to be more important than other aspects of the game.
LET’S TALK HELMETS
Another aspect of the game that needs to be improved is the safety and strength of the equipment used for protection. In the chart below you can see the amount of concussions that occurred in the NFL from 1996 to 2001 compared to the amount that occurred form 2002, the year that Dr. Bennet Omalu made his findings on brain disease in players, to 2007 and the averages of concussions per year. As you can see, while there was a slight decrease in the amounts between the two time frames, it is not nearly enough to justify that the game has become safer since Dr. Omalu’s work.
Equipment is a good place to start to try and reduce this total by a much larger number, and of course the most important piece of equipment to look at in terms of head injuries is helmets. Since this issue has become more publicized helmet companies have made attempts to strengthen the helmets to reduce the effects of head collisions. However, though “the current helmet quality assurance standard attempts to limit translational acceleration, but does not address dangerous levels of rotational acceleration” (Forbes 202). This means that while the new designs of helmets have made strides in reducing the risk of head on collisions, the risk of collisions from different angles have not been addressed as much as it should be. The tests to reduce the effect of these different types of collisions must take place in order to make the correct strides towards a safer game.
The NFL and other organizations must also take into account the legal side of the equation in order for the attempts at weathering this storm are to be successful. “The $30,000,000 given to the NIH to study brain trauma related to the playing of football and the $100,000,000 commitment on the part of the NFL and NFLPA to Harvard University for research related to injuries” (Smith 184), are examples of the NFL and NFLPA, National Football League Players Associations, trying to show that they are invested in this cause. However, there will be legal troubles if they do not settle the many lawsuits stemming from this issue, such as the the lawsuit against the NFL by around 4,500 former players that was settled in 2013. The most effective way of of helping with this legal aspect is that, “the NFL and NFLPA need to work together to create a fair compensation system for former injured players,” (Smith 189). To avoid any further conflict this is the most effect route to take. It allows the NFL to avoid further controversy and the former players effect by this can be compensated for their troubles.
The head injury controversy is disease that is spreading through the game like the brain disease itself is spreading to the players. Head injuries are a serious matter that can lead to death if they are not recognized. There are already signs of the sport declining due to this, including the decline in youth participation. Precautions must be taken to allow the game to become safer and allow the new generation to enjoy the game without this worry. The NFL must stop the “bleeding” and patch up the issue as soon as possible, or it could become to late and we risk losing the sport all together.
Azad, Tej D., et al. “Junior Seau: An Illustrative Case Of Chronic Traumatic
Encephalopathy And Update On Chronic Sports-Related Head Injury.” World Neurosurgery 86.(2016): 515.e11-515.e16. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Findler, Patrick. “Should Kids Play (American) Football?.” Journal Of The Philosophy Of
Sport 42.3 (2015): 443-462. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Forbes, Jonathan, et al. “Biomechanics Of Subdural Hemorrhage In American Football: Review Of The Literature In Response To Rise In Incidence.” Child’s Nervous System 30.2 (2014): 197-203. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Furness, Zack. “Reframing Concussions, Masculinity, And NFL Mythology In League Of
Denial.” Popular Communication 14.1 (2016): 49-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Murphy, Austin. “Endgame.” Sports Illustrated 125.6/7 (2016): 122-128. Academic Search
Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Smith, Rodney K. “Solving The Concussion Problem And Saving Professional Football.”
Thomas Jefferson Law Review 35.2 (2013): 127-191. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Steve, Fainaru, and Mark, Fainaru-Wada. “OTL: Pop Warner Participation Drops.” ESPN.com.
N.p., 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.
Harwell, Drew. “NFL Ratings Plunge Could Spell Doom for Traditional TV.” Washington Post.
The Washington Post, 14 Oct. 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.