The concussion discussion
Injury concerns continue to challenge football's reputation
Earlier this week, a study with plenty of shock value hit the general public like a defensive end blindsiding a quarterback: the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — commonly known as CTE — had been discovered in 110 examined brains of former professional football players.
Out of 111.
Taken at face value, this information is damning. It looked like another severe blow to a sport already reeling from concussion talk and other related concerns.
Without delving deeper into the facts or understanding this particular study’s relative bias — the 111 brains were donated by families of deceased players who had shown CTE signs and symptoms in their living years — a cursory review could easily lead to assumptions and conclusions that condemn football all over again.
It’s easy to lose perspective here; to vilify the sport as too archaic, too brutal and too reckless to have a significant place in the future of our society. And it’s also understandable — albeit questionable — that we apply this data to our everyday lives; we see widespread panic about statistics at the NFL level, and naturally relate it to what our kids go through at Dodger Stadium.
Truth be told, we simply don’t know enough about the topic to draw any definitive conclusions. We’re in the infant stages of understanding concussions and CTE related to football at varying degrees. Does a person obtain CTE from repetitive hits, versus severe, isolated contact? Will we ever be able to diagnose CTE before a person dies? Is CTE solely to blame for suicide and other drastic behavior? How common is CTE among casual players at the lower levels? Should a parent take information from skewed studies of players who spent years competing at the highest level and pull their 13-year-old off the field because of it?
Football can be dangerous, relatively speaking, but the same could easily be said about many other sports or even everyday activities most of us experience in one form or another. There are a myriad reasons to respect the statistics without abandoning the game or labeling it toxic.
Thousands of former NFL players lived long, healthy and productive lives after retiring on their own terms. Thousands of former players knew the risks, are aware of the studies, and would still replay their careers without changing a thing. Contrary to the growing beliefs from the sometimes-overprotective segments of society, playing football does not mean significant, adverse long-term side effects are an inevitability by any stretch of the imagination. The horror stories are absolutely disheartening, but should be digested slowly rather than swallowed whole.
The sport needs to consistently emphasize proper education, fundamentals, and concussion protocol, and will do so in order to survive. Studies will continue. CTE research will continue. And it should. Football will only grow and thrive if it agrees to collectively adjust to the times.
In the meantime, keep an open mind and weigh the options to determine what’s best for your child and your situation. Be diligent. Be informed. There are risks, of course, but the good in football — the brotherhood, the competitiveness, the passion, the principles and the work ethic — remains prevalent in unique ways that often help, not hinder, the mind, body and soul long after the glory days are gone.
The game isn’t for everyone, but it should be available to anyone. It will take rational decision-making and strong leadership to make sure football evolves from the concussion discussion, rather than disappearing because of it.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @MessengerSports