Concussions and the NFL

What is a concussion? It can be defined as an injury-induced change in mental function or awareness level that can occur without obvious damage to brain structures, lasts less than 6 hours and may cause a loss of consciousness.

Over the past two seasons, 306 NFL players have suffered over 323 concussions. Of all the NFL players who are being sidelined to concussions, the burden has come mainly to wide receivers and cornerbacks who have calculated more concussions than any other position. The most compelling issue with concussions and the NFL is that there are not enough protective measures to keep athletes safe.  Data from the American Academy of Neurology has shown that while every head injury is different, an athlete is most at-risk of a re-occurring injury within the first ten days after the initial injury.  Often times, a player will sustain a head injury in the first half of the game only to return to play after half time.  Obviously, this puts an athlete at even greater risk of sustaining a more serious injury, as well as increasing the risk of having complications later in life.  Within the first month of the NFL season, 15 different players have been put on the injured list for concussions. Of these 15 players, 12 have returned to the field after only a week of recovery.  The most concerning part about head related injury, especially when an athlete returns to soon, is the risk for serious complications in life after football.

Long Term Affects

With years of research and a lot of skepticism, the NFL has recently acknowledged the link between concussions and what is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in NFL players.  Jeff Miller, who is the NFLs senior VP for health and safety, confirmed that football related head trauma can lead to this new found disease.  A prominent doctor at Boston University also confirmed this saying that she diagnosed CTE in 90 out of 94 former NFL players that she has examined.

What is CTE?

CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma, resulting from repetitive hits to the head, triggers progressive degeneration of brain tissue as well as the build up of a strange protein called tau. The symptoms of this disease are memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and dementia later on.

The Controversy

Starting in the early 2000s, the NFL would not acknowledge the existence of CTE or the link between the disease and injuries sustained by football players. For fear of losing income, the NFL downplayed the disease, subsequently increasing the number of football players sustaining multiple injuries to the head.  Despite the staggering amount of research and evidence suggesting otherwise, in 2005 the NFL stated that “no player had ever suffered chronic brain damage as a result of repeat concussions” as well as stating that “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis”.  One can question these statements by merely looking at the numbers. In the same year, NFL players had sustained 271 concussions, which was a 31.6% increase from the year before. They then repealed these statements saying that “it is quite obvious from the medical research that’s been done that concussions can lead to long term problems”. Because of the negligence of the NFL to keep their players safe, and to keep them aware of the risks of the sport, over 5,000 players decided to sue the league for the head injuries that they had sustained. After almost a decade of denial and skeptism, the NFL is finally acknowledging the link between football related head injuries and CTE, but the question now is, should the NFL compensate them?

The Lawsuit

The decision for over 5,000 current and former NFL players to sue the league caused a lot of controversy. While the NFL tried to downplay the severity of neurological problems like CTE saying that the evidence was inflated and that “the actuaries’ models do not reflect a prediction of the numbers of players who will suffer injuries” the court was still able to grant a claim based on the staggering evidence given. After football injuries, players had a 0.8 percent of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. The average person has only a 0.1 percent chance. The gap between players and people in general widens more and more with increasing age. Research acquired also shows that 28 percent of all NFL players will develop a long tern brain related injury or disease.  Based on this evidence, they came to the conclusion to establish a pool od $675 million dollars to cover head related injuries and disease caused by repetitive injuries occurring during their NFL football careers. While this is a substantial amount of money, some still believe that it is not enough to compensate for the medical care needed for head trauma. Eventually, the NFL agreed to pay a total of $800 million in compensation. Another term in the lawsuit is the sliding scale for compensation based on the age of the player in question along with the number of years that the athlete has participated. With this system, players who have participated for ten years would receive more than someone who competed for 5.  So many players are being affected by long term neurological problems that it is estimated that 90 percent of all retired NFL players will file for a claim. Christopher Seeger, one of the head lawyers stated, “This report paints a startling picture of how prevalent neurocognitive diseases are among retired N.F.L. players, and underscores why class members should immediately register for this settlement’s benefits,”

Clearly the efforts of the NFL to brush these issues under the rug along with their negligence to address the link between repetitive blows to the head and neurological diseases such as CTE have caused a lot of controversy.  Because of their inability to inform players about these types of issues, they are left in the dark about the risks of the game and are now facing the consequence.

Why is this relevant in society?

Since the NFL is no longer denying the link between head injuries occurring in football and long term brain issues, parents will be more hesitant to let their kids play football. One woman who’s son suffered from CTE is starting a petition to stop children that are younger than 14 from playing in youth football leagues. She states “I didn’t sign my son up to get a brain disease”. These kids of feelings can spread among parents for the fear of their young ones having long term effects from participating in youth and high school football. Knowing what we know now about concussions and diseases like CTE parents have to wonder, is it worth the risk?





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