To Play or Not to Play?

While many continue to analyze, discuss and complain about Sunday’s very uneventful super bowl game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, a greater issue continues to challenge the National Football League – the concussion lawsuit.

As a former club soccer player, I personally have experienced the consequences of repeated concussions and have witnessed them in several teammates as well. Concussions, a type of brain injury caused by a blow to the head or body, are becoming more common among high school athletes. Though football continues to be the most dangerous for boys, soccer has been proven to be dangerous for girls.

After receiving two major concussions within seven months during my junior year of high school, I quickly found myself with nothing to do during the day. I spent my days sitting in my bedroom with the lights off and no access to a phone, computer or television. As weeks and months passed, I slowly recovered from the injury despite the fact that my aspirations to play soccer in college quickly faded. Even with the unfortunate conclusion of my soccer career, my story is incomparable to those of former NFL players, such as Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, who both committed suicide after living with the unbearable side effects of repetitive head trauma. Following their deaths, their brains were studied and CTE was the diagnosis for both. CTE is a degenerative disease found in individuals who have experienced several traumatic brain injuries over a lifetime. Clearly, there is a link between CTE and concussions; however, the question is how will we respond to this discovery.

concussion+brain+football+helmet

Living former NFL players and members of the Cowboys Hall of Fame, Tony Dorsett and Rayfield Wright, have both recently been diagnosed with early signs of CTE. While CTE can only be clearly determined post-mortem, both Dorsett and Wright have used their findings to lead a lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly withholding what it knew about the risk of concussions in football.

In August of 2013, NFL reached a $765 million settlement with the former NFL players which meant that $75 million would go towards medical exams, $10 million would be used for research and education, while players with severe conditions could receive up to $5 million each. Despite the NFL’s desire to make headway in the lawsuit, the settlement is now on hold. In January of 2014, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody refused to accept the settlement. She said, “It is difficult to see how the Monetary Award Fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels.” In the meantime, while the NFL and lead attorneys continue to work on the settlement, many organizations are making strides toward making football safer for players.

In my opinion, something must be done soon about the growing aggressiveness in athletics in both the NFL and in youth programs. It is encouraging to see NCAA institute a new “targeting” rule into the league this past year for college football. Though it is a small adjustment, it has already made college athletes more aware when hitting their opponents. Patrick Johnson, president of the North Texas Pop Warner program, claims that he has seen players turn down big hits out of respect for their opponent’s safety.

According to Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, a cognitive neuroscientist and chief director of the University of Texas-Dallas’ Center for Brain Health, NFL players need to work out and strengthen their brains in the same way that teams build endurance by working with trainers. She believes that being proactive will ultimately help recovery rates among players dealing with concussions. Campaigns such as the Heads Up campaign, an initiative developed by the CDC, offers information to athletes, coaches and parents about concussions and potential effects. They also emphasize various ways to prevent and detect concussions in athletes. Although young athletes are receiving more information than any other generation, concussions continue to threaten the lives of many individuals.

As I look back on my experiences and at the way concussions have impacted my daily life, I am thankful for the doctors that knew to take me out of the game even when I so stubbornly wanted to prove them wrong. My natural instinct was to sacrifice my body for my team. I didn’t want to let anyone down and I knew that fighting through the pain would demonstrate strength. However, this is the very mentality that needs to change in today’s world. When it really comes down to it, people need to understand that without taking precautions and taking head trauma seriously, more and more people are going to live a life similar to Dave Duerson and Junior Seau – now, is that really worth it?

Sources:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sports/dallas-cowboys/nfl/headlines/20140201-concussions-head-injuries-have-given-football-a-clouded-future.ece

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/10346091/lead-negotiator-facing-strong-opposition-concussion-settlement

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/NFL-Players-765M-Settlement-on-Concussion-Lawsuits-Stopped-240123251.html

http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/9902116/report-details-concussion-risks-high-school-athletes

http://www.afca.com/article/article.php?id=2342

http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/HeadsUp/index.html?s_cid=tw_cdc1466

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/league-of-denial/timeline-the-nfls-concussion-crisis/

http://www.jrn.com/fox47news/news/health/New-Concussion-Law-Reemphasizes-Awareness-Education-Push-218990131.html (photo)

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