In the Op Ed section of the New York Times of Friday, February 5, 2016 Dr. George D. Lundberg, MD, a pathologist raised the question about the end of football approaching much like the end of boxing. Dr. Lundberg wrote about his reaction to the 1982 boxing match between Larry Holmes and Randall “Tex” Cobb which resulted in a brutal beating for Cobb in spite of fans calling out to the referee to stop that fight. A self-identified football fan and a physician concerned with the brain, Dr. Lundberg, raised his concerns with the increase in concussions causing the end of football to begin.He pointed to the helmet-to-helmet contact in the January 9th game between the Steelers and the Bengals where Ryan Shazier put Giovanni Bernard out of the game and the shoulder-to-helmet hit of Vontaze Burfict to Antonio Brown which resulted in a concussion for Mr. Brown.
Recently MJ Clausen and I interviewed Ray Ciancaglini, a retired middlewight boxer whose fight career was ended by concussions. Mr. Ciancaglini now devotes his life to prevention of injury caused by multiple concussion through his tireless advocacy activity and website TheSecondImpact.com . In our interview, published here in NeuroNotes, we talked about the Holmes Cobb fight and other serious injuries and deaths which occurred in the boxing ring as well as football injuries and CTE. Mr. Ciancaglini expressed his belief that violence is a part of both boxing and football which draws the fans.
The announcement this week of Ken Stabler’s CTE diagnosis increases the shadow looming over pro-football. We know that many former NFL players struggle with cognitive, behavioral and physical problems long after their careers have ended and a high percentage of former players who have died or taken their own lives have been found to have CTE. Football is America’s passion and this weekend’s Super Bowl is the grand finale to the season. But, with increase in former players developing CTE and the NFL’s inability to improve safety are we witnessing the slow demise of the sport. Many parents are pulling their children back from football in school and we hear of players leaving the sport early in the careers to avoid the compound effect of concussive injuries. Can football survive? And, can the NFL do what is needed to improve player safety?