Op-Ed: Football: The Field of Concussions

According to data released by the league, there were a total of 149 concussions suffered this season in the NFL, with 242 NFL players per year. That’s just in the NFL, for just one season, and not counting the ones that went by undiagnosed.

While American football is seen as an extremely popular, fun, and worldly-viewed contact sport, it is also the demise of a myriad of brains. And, I believe, an inhumane way of slowly and subconsciously targeting quality of life through tackles and body slams. A sport responsible for the deterioration of not only the brain but also human life.

Although it can seem like it is a thrilling way to reach your best physical self in the way of speed, agility, and coordination, it also suggests the imagery of men becoming as big as possible to be able to tackle each other until brain injuries are present, and quality lives are shortened. Football players spend their naturally short lives bashing their heads in, in turn, condensing life even more. 

This has been proven and portrayed to the public in various ways: from award-winning movies to expert neuroscientists publishing investigations. However, the severity of the problem has not been received with as much earnestness as it should be. This, of course, may be because football is not only the creator of an almost 20 billion dollar industry but also a vice for thrill-seeking sportsmen and entertainment-hungry watchers.

Football is constantly rated as the sport with the most concussions a year and the sport with the most injuries when it’s related to young players; this is proven by the fact that in 2021 there were a total of 4 direct fatalities among football players during football-related activities, and they were all high school players. All four of these deaths were due to traumatic brain injuries; three of them were during a game (1 during practice), and half were due to tackling. However, while the number of direct fatalities in 2021 is 4, the number of indirect fatalities is 13, 11 of them relating to high school football. This means that a total of 17 football players died in 2021 due to football and football-related activities, with a total of 197 players in the past decade, not including 2022.

As an added bonus, football doesn’t only threaten your life, but also its quality of it. Because if brain injuries account for 65% to 95% of all fatalities in football, imagine how much it accounts for general football injuries. 

Football injuries associated with the brain occur at the rate of one in every 5.5 games. And according to the CDC, brain injuries, moderate or severe, can lead to “a lifetime of physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes. These changes may affect a person’s ability to function in their everyday life.”

All in all, football appears to present the best chances of getting brain-related disorders. And while most people believe it starts with concussions, even just a few hits to the head on the football field can turn into a slow walk toward a degenerative way of living.

“Research shows that repeated hits to the head — not just concussions – can increase the risk of developing the degenerative brain condition CTE, which has been found in many former NFL players.”

CTE is a brain condition that causes depression, suicidal thoughts, aggression, and mood swings. It can also create problems with thinking and memory and may ultimately develop into dementia. Repeated blows to the head are considered the main factors for this condition. 

A 2017 study showed CTE in 99% of the brains of NFL players studied, 91% of the brains of college football players, and 21% of high school football players. And this year, an autopsy and research study showed that over 90% of the deceased NFL players’ brains studied showed signs of CTE: “Researchers at the Boston University CTE Center recently announced that they have now diagnosed CTE in the brains of 345 of 376 (91.7%) of NFL players studied.” 

Among them was the player Rick Arrington, who died last year at the age of 74 not being able to make a simple phone call, according to his daughter Jill Arrington, who no longer enjoys watching football. Rick Arrington suffered from CTE for 35 years and was finally diagnosed with Stage IV of it, thanks to the autopsy study since this condition can only be definitively diagnosed after death through a brain autopsy. Rick Arrington didn’t even have a history of concussions.

The horror of a sport like this is that the diagnosis of a concussion is not a straightforward one. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 5 in 10 concussions go unreported or undetected, and around 300,000 of those are from football. 

This was seen in last year’s controversy when football player Tua Tagovailoa was returned to the game in spite of a medical evaluation after hitting his head on the turf and participating in constant tumbling that led viewers to believe he was concussed. Four days later, in another game, he was hit again and showed signs of a traumatic brain injury.

All of these missed concussions, CTE-led lives, and early retirements should be a significant sign that football players are getting the life gradually sucked out of them by this life-threatening game we call football. Whether it be the sports industry, medical attention in games, or the players themselves, something needs to change. And viewers need to develop an awareness of their support for the decline of our players.

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