With the upcoming Super Bowl we all are experiencing the pre-game hype, pushing for our favorite team, wondering about the ads and the half-time show and probably not really thinking much about concussions and CTE. Since 2012, the NFL has worked to reduce the risks which lead to concussions and has seen a 12% reduction in concussions. There is still a long way to go. The sport has been diligent in improving equipment, redesigning plays, outlawing certain strategies and penalizing players for engaging in dangerous tactics. Experts like Dr. Cantu of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy have been retained by the NFL to help lessen the risk of concussion-related injuries. Research at places like the Cleveland Clinic, also continues to advance with studies established to identify the biomarkers associated with concussion and sub-concussive injuries which can lead to early recognition of brain injury. The NFL has contributed to future research as part of the settlement of the lawsuit against them. Still, we have a sport in which physically large, highly-trained, ultra-powerful athletes engage in a sport of aggressive physical encounter and with that a significant risk for injury. With concussion, the risks of additional injury and brain changes increases with multiple events. But, football is a compelling sport for the athletes and fans alike. In a recent pre-game survey of professional football players, 85% would play in the Super Bowl even if they knew they had a concussion prior to the start of the game.
I wonder if football’s survival as a sport hinges on making it safer for players and still retaining what is exciting about the sport. We have been advised of the dangers and have seen them manifested in players who have sustained multiple concussions and struggle with the onset of neurological conditions like CTE or have taken their lives due to the effect of neurological changes on their mental health. Duerson, Seau, McPhail and others have left that sad legacy of the sport.
Click here to read a story about the NFL’s approach to safety.