Posted in Our Blog on December 1, 2012
This week on our legal talk show, John Redmann: Power of Attorney, we discussed the growing number of concussions in football. This is a serious issue that affects all of us, whether we’re fans of the NFL, college, or high school football, or whether we have sons who are playing or who may want to play football.
The science behind how concussions are linked to long-term brain trauma has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past decade. The brain is a delicate organ, and collisions with the head cause the brain to crash into the skull that encases it. This is dangerous and can have devastating long-term consequences if it’s done repeatedly. In the worst cases, repeated blows to the head over a long period of time can lead to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a disease of the brain leading to horrific symptoms like dementia, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, migraines, suicidal thoughts, and other serious ailments.
For a long time, concussions were treated as minor injuries. Phrases like, “getting your bell rung” serve to dampen how serious the injury is. Traditionally, a concussion suffered during a football game wasn’t even seen as a sufficient reason to leave the game. The tough, team-first mentality of sports influences how athletes think of their bodies, often causing them to want to “play through the pain.” However, as we learn more and more about the dangers of brain trauma, our mindset for this type of injury must change.
Currently, more than 3,000 former NFL players have filed a lawsuit against the National Football League, alleging that the league covered up and debunked scientific arguments that concussions could lead to CTE. Only in the past few years has the NFL taken a serious step toward preventing concussions; if you watch NFL games on Sundays, you’ve undoubtedly noticed league-produced PSAs that explain the steps the league is taking to make the game safer.
This is to be commended, but it is by no means the end-all solution. If the courts rule in favor of the many former NFL players suffering concussion-related illnesses in their post-playing careers, then the NFL has a responsibility to compensate these men and their families for their suffering. And remember, most NFL players are not stars like Drew Brees and Peyton Manning who earn $20 million a year; rather, the great majority of players in the league play on practice squads or as backups, rarely-if ever-see the field, and have careers that end, on average, after three years. These men suffer concussions and all kinds of other injuries, many of them damaging or eliminating their ability to earn a living after their short careers end. Their mentality, however, encourages them to play through injuries (and often to not disclose the injuries at all to their coaches), because missing time for injury runs the risk of another player taking their job in a market where jobs are scarce. The risks run even for established players, like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who recently was sidelined with a concussion and ultimately lost his job as the starting quarterback because his backup performed so well; stories like this scare players into playing through concussions.
Football is a great game that most of us love; you need only look at NFL ratings to see that it’s far and away America’s most popular sport, and it’s only growing in popularity every year. But our mentality surrounding it must change, starting, most critically, with our children. If we let our children play football, we must teach them about how serious concussions are, and how to recognize them. Most youth coaches work on a volunteer basis, and while many of them are required by law to take concussion awareness training, they are still not professionals. And if a child does suffer a concussion, medical staff is usually not on hand (particularly in rural, more isolated areas) to treat the child. So we have to understand the risks we’re taking, and constantly inform and educate ourselves about proactive health and safety.