Football and Concussions
Football is the most popular sport in the United States in both TV viewership and overall revenue, a popularity due in part to the violent nature of the sport. Highlight reels show sacks, hits, players who got “jacked up,” but all that contact comes at a cost; players endure serious injuries, including broken bones, torn knee ligaments, ruptured tendons, torn muscles, and concussions.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Concussions may contribute to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative neurological disease that has a variety of symptoms, including mood changes, depression, motor disturbances, and loss of memory. The scientific research into CTE is new; at present head trauma, specifically brain trauma, is the only known risk factor for CTE. There is little agreement in the scientific community as to how much or how little brain trauma contributes to a CTE diagnosis, a diagnosis that, unfortunately, can only be diagnosed post-mortem. Virginia Tech, a leader in concussion research, is now participating in a $30 million study sponsored by the NCAA and the Department of Defense to combat concussions.
Concussions and NFL Players Settlement
Although the research into CTE is new, a large number of former NFL players recently sued the NFL for failing to warn its players of the dangers of head trauma, and for hiding the damages of brain injury. See NFL Concussion Settlement Program. The former players reached a settlement with the NFL in which the NFL agreed to put aside $755 million to pay future claims involving CTE, ALS, and Parkinson’s. The NFL expects that it will pay approximately $675 million over the next 60 years under the terms of the current settlement. Although injuries connected with ongoing head trauma are often debilitating, life-changing, and devastating the settlement has imposed a litany of road-blocks prior to recovering, including time constraints, exemptions for suffering other injuries (e.g. a concussion in a car accident), and a lengthy approval process. While the NFL concussion settlement was criticized for being very overly favorable to the NFL, it does provide some remuneration to former NFL players suffering from the lasting effects of brain injury.
While many players have suffered head hits over the course of their football careers at the college, high school, or Pop Warner level, these players are not included in the NFL concussion settlement. In fact serious head trauma sustained in the NFL may represent only a fraction of the overall number of head injuries sustained at all levels of organized football. In order to protect all players from hits that may contribute to concussions, rule changes have taken place in the NFL, NCAA, and in high schools to limit hits to the head. Football may never be a completely safe sport, and parents and players should do everything they can to limit their exposure to head injuries in football. One place to start is the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings Guide.