For years, people have associated football with intense tackling, brutes battling at the line of scrimmage and, most notably, head trauma. The dueling on the gridiron can lead to the most feared injury one can sustain—a concussion. Unless major changes are made to the rule book, hard hitting tackles on the field will continue to lead to life-altering debilitations.
Football has almost come to be synonymous with this injury. By definition, a concussion is “a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions.” The most frightening thing about this is that it can result in a lifetime of struggle, as those who have had a concussion often experience signs of Alzheimer’s disease and/or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, among others.
With all the advanced medical knowledge on the issue, why do people still risk their lives for the game? For one, the violent style of play is ingrained in the culture of the sport. To remove the intensity will ruin the game itself. There is no panacea that will miraculously prevent these types of injuries, and given football’s raging popularity in the US, only gradual changes to the rulebook will limit these accidents from happening.
The NFL has many penalties to limit excessive contact that may lead to head injury, such as Roughing the Passer and Unnecessary Roughness. Even at the lower levels, there have been changes made to make the game safer. To limit the frequency of injuries at the amateur level, the state of California enacted Law AB 2127 on Jan. 1, 2015. This prohibits teams at the high school and middle school level from holding more than two full contact practices lasting over 90 minutes each per week. Many schools across the nation implemented this new rule before the legislation was passed.
At the high school level, the prospect of sustaining a concussion is much lower than in the NFL, given the difference in speed and power between professional and amateur players. Even with the difference in scale, it is hard to escape the reality of the sport, as each down holds the potential for tons of contact. Granted, there are new rules and safer tackling techniques, but it is difficult to enforce these strategies when the intensity and physicality of the sport has escalated over the past thirty years.
Today’s game is far too dangerous. Statistics show that 14 percent of retired NFL players will develop Alzheimer’s sometime in their lives and another 14 percent will develop moderate dementia in their post-playing days. The NFL also estimated that nearly one-third of former players “will develop dementia or other debilitating neurological disorders like Parkinson’s [or] ALS.” These statistics reveal the reality of the game. More than one-fourth of all active players will suffer for the remainder of their lives.
Recently, former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide at the age of 43. The autopsy revealed that he suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), brain damage that was also found in other deceased NFL players. These sobering statistics and real life examples. They should serve as warnings to young players considering playing football, or at the very least inform them of the dangers of the sport.
Ever since the early 1980s the sport has evolved from a festive pastime to a more intense and violent game. The only way to limit the harmful effects of concussions and related head injuries is to inform the youth about the dangers of the sport and to teach safer technique on the field. Only then would the culture of the game change and head toward a safer future.