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Concussions: The Plaque of the NFL


By Bryan Dietzler

This writer decided to take a little bit of time off from writing about the Chicago Bears and do something on one of the most pressing and critical topics surrounding the NFL today.  Concussions have been a problem in the NFL since its inception and only recently have doctors, players and officials in the league discovered just how much of a problem that this can cause.

The hardship and tragedy of concussions in the league has only really just been realized and it has come out that there are long term effects that result from suffering to many concussions or sub-concussive events.  These long term effects were recently publicized in the movie Concussion.  While it’s “Hollywood” and everything might not be entirely accurate in the movie, but through research, the movie does bring some up some solid truths about concussions and the long term effects of them including CTE.  It’s likely that CTE has been around for a long time, not just in football players but in other sports related professions that see a constant risk of head injury.  Thanks to medical advances as well as people taking the time to care about what is happening, it is just now coming to light.

Some of the cases that have been rather famous.  Mike Webster, the former center of the Pittsburgh Steelers is probably the most famous and the first real groundbreaking case of CTE discovered.  None of the medical personnel that treated Webster could figure out what was wrong with him and they kept pumping him full of drugs thinking that would take care of his problems.  Unfortunately it would take Webster’s death for people to stand up and take note and realize that there was much more to his death than what it looked like on the outside.

Many more have fallen since Webster passed.  We have seen Dave Duerson take his life along with Junior Seau and others.  All once strong men taken down by the effects of the job that they loved most.  Sad.

But what can be done to prevent these kinds of deaths from happening in the future?  There is really only one way to stop it and that is to cease receiving the head trauma that causes concussions and thus, the end result, CTE.  That, of course, could mean that football may eventually have to come to an end and no one, especially this writer, wants to see that happen.  Football has grown to become a very popular sport across the world and shutting it down would be a detriment to many people.  In addition to that, it’s highly doubtful that the NFL would ever fold.  It makes too much money, provides too many jobs and gives us too much entertainment to ever close its doors and go away.  Don’t worry football fans, football isn’t going anywhere.

Still, we need to think of what has happened to boxing over the last few years.  Boxing was a very popular sport back in the mid 1900’s and it was watched and enjoyed by a lot of people.  When it was discovered that boxers suffered long term damage from the sport, including ill effects from concussions and constant hits to the head, the sport started to become less popular.  Since then, boxing has taken a dip in its consumption by the consumer and it’s not been as widespread or as noticeable as it has been in the past.  Could the same thing happen to football?

Football is extremely popular and isn’t going to go away or fall by the wayside like boxing, has sort of done.  But football could quite possibly be made a little safer.  The problem with doing that is that making it a little less violent has a negative effect because people love the violence of football.  The NFL has already put together some rules that are taking some of the violence out of the sport all in an effort to help keep players safer.  Some of the things that they have done include eliminating certain kinds of hits (like spearing) and tackles (like horse collars).  These rule changes have had a positive effect on the game and have, perhaps, curtailed some of the injuries that were previously suffered by players.

Could there more that the league can do to protect players?  Can they implement more rules?  Can new technology help out?  Could there be better medical procedures waiting in the wings that can help take care of these players for the short and long term?  Hopefully technological advances come far enough (and soon enough) to the point where players can be healed easier and suffer less as a result of the constant blows to the head that they receive.  It can almost be assured that the NFL is looking for ways to help curb the problem and lessen the impact.

We cannot forget about those who have sacrificed so much to make the negative effects of concussions and CTE get thrust to forefront.  Webster was probably the first and sadly it took a lot of convincing and pleading to get the world to believe that he had suffered from CTE as well as convince people that it was related to his playing football for all of those years.  Most people, including those that run the NFL, are just now starting to realize the long term effects of head injuries in the NFL and are doing something about it.

Football will march on as the nation’s number one sport despite the fact it has most likely caused the deaths of several of its most valued former members.  Hockey and soccer are also sports that have a risk of concussion and there have been some measures taken to control head injuries in those sports (mainly at the junior level).  People are taking action and doing something about it and the awareness, as well as the treatment has gotten much better.

So let’s not forget those that took their lives or passed away by other means as a result of CTE.  Let’s not forget the doctor, Bennet Omalu, who discovered CTE and tried his best to bring it to the attention of the medical and sporting community.  Had it not been for his discovery some of the advances and changes that we see today may have not been put in place.  People may have continued playing with concussions instead of taking advantage of the new rules that have been set forth by league and other governing bodies.  Perhaps this is helping to save a few lives and make things easier.

Football is here to stay, it’s now starting to become safer and that’s important.

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