The Case Against Football
I never played football as a kid, apart from flag football and touch football, but never “real” football. With the knowledge of concussions and the effect they can have in the short and long term I am glad I did not. This is because I would compare football to smoking. We all have been told smoking is bad for us. My father died of lung cancer, an accepted side effect of smoking. More people are now dying from the effects of concussions. Unfortunately slow killers are easy to ignore.
A concussion is brain trauma. You can have swelling and bleeding. As more research comes out on the long term effects of concussions it becomes clear that more needs to be done about them. For a selective sample of football players 87% were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (swelling). This is a type of brain injury that occurs over time and does not require you to have a “concussion”. Scarier is 110 of 111 or 99% of nfl players brains had this condition.
Is CTE really a slow killer though?
Symptoms Of CTE
The Mayo clinic cites CTE symptoms as changes in thinking, behavior, and emotion. People with CTE have trouble thinking, planning, and have short term memory loss. They are impulsive and are more likely to have substance abuse issues. Emotionally they may have depression, be unstable, or be suicidal. These are the long term effects of a sport such as football. Not everyone will die due to these symptoms but they have a major effect on a person’s life.
128 Brain Injuries Each Weekend
As an under reported condition if we use the nfl data of diagnosed concussions of 243 per year over the last 5 years we know a brain injury happens conservatively 3.7 times every 10 games. If we extrapolate that out to just FBS and NFL teams we know that this past weekend there were at least 30 brain injuries. If we include all college football teams this would leave us with 128 brain injuries per week of football. This means every weekend 1 and a half college football teams worth of players have a brain injury.
So what do those 128 people experience?
Short Term Effects Of Concussion
The short term effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) such as a concussion vary. The person may lose consciousness at the time of injury and may have immediate effects. These short term effects can linger for long periods of time and include issues with thinking, sensation, language, and emotion/mood. After concussion loss of short term memory, difficulty with focus, and headaches are all common. You can also have change in sensation and a change in your balance. In some cases you may lose ability to comprehend or speak. You can also experience depression, anxiety, changes in personality, and aggression. Sleep, smell, and taste may change as well. These effects tend to linger longer than most people think.
But Players Bounce Back Right?
There are a number of players that suffer a concussion and play the next week. This is counter to research that says average recovery from symptoms is 43 days if they reduce their mental stimulus. It is much longer if you do not have appropriate brain rest. This means players would not be able to prepare for a game the next week. We treat athletes like they recover better or faster than other people and we expect them to play when hurt or with injury. This extends to brain injury. Jahvid Best retired from football due to residual symptoms and later sued the nfl. This may explain why his teammate Calvin Johnson retired at the peak of his career.
Ethics Of Football
When it comes to the ethics of football we can all make our determination on our guiding principles. If I ask if the end justifies the means it does not appear so. We allow far too many people to be subjected to not only short term harm but also long term problems that manifest years later. It is not our place to force people not to play football just as we do not force people to not smoke. We do however regulate smoking and should do the same with football.
How Should We Regulate?
Age Of Consent
We should regulate football similar to how we regulate the sale of cigarettes. There should be an age of consent with the understanding that a 12 year old does not have the ability to make a decision in regards to their long term health. With 21% of people who played in to high school having symptoms it would suggest people who play approximately 6 years of football are at a slightly greater risk of CTE as smokers are to develop lung cancer. With an age of 16 this would put people at 2 years in high school and 4 years in college.
Longer Time Between Games
Is there a reason football games have to be every week? There is a bye week in both the nfl and college football. Would it be detrimental to give more bye weeks during the season or play a game every other week? Possibly for the media cycle but fans would still be able to follow. This would give greater brain rest and limit hitting. There are detriments to a longer season but if you remove financial considerations and shift focus to the health of the players this could be an option to allow more brain recovery.
Better Protocols And Restrictions
The last thing an athlete wants to do is sit out a game. Protocols have been developed to help confirm a concussion has happened but once they are able to beat the test they want back on the field. If we look at other groups such as students who have symptoms for an average of 43 days we know these players return too fast. I do not have a solution but it would not be out of the question to recommend a minimum of 2 weeks out (1 week of brain rest then initiate the current protocol.) This would help provide for better chance to recover and take the option away from the player who just wants to compete.
To Watch Or Not To Watch?
When we watch football, go to the game, or support our favorite team we create the foundation for these brain injuries to occur. The short term and long term effects of concussions are well documented. But before the next former, or current, football player commits suicide, forgets their partner or kids names, or can no longer function in day to day society due to their brain damage due to concussions and CTE please consider other options. Similar to smoking we need to push for more regulations on this dangerous game or cease our support all together.
Is brain damage worth the entertainment for you?