The Dark Side of Football

Photo courtesy of Forbes: Big hits put NFL players at risk of getting CTE.

You propel yourself through the stiff November air. Adrenaline pumping through your veins. Legs churning. The brisk breeze burns as it slaps your face. Your mind blocks out everything. It is focused on one thing: the end zone. You see defenders converging, but your eyes zero in on the pylon. Twenty yards… 15 yards… 10 yards… 5 yards… You lunge forward, stretching your body towards the end zone. CRACK! The bright orange of the pylon is the last thing that you see before the lights go out. The next time you open your eyes, you are lying in a hospital bed. The fact that you got hit has been completely erased from your memory. Confusion settles in. What happened? Where are you? The past is a blur.

Concussions affect many players from youth to professional levels, in football and other contact sports. How to prevent and manage the long-term effects of concussions is one of the most serious issues in sports today. Every day the severe damage that concussions have on the brain becomes more clear. Concussions are the leading cause of a brain disease, known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is fatal and has been found in the majority of deceased NFL players. It affects not only the players that suffer from it, but their families as well. CTE is an issue that cannot be ignored and must be dealt with immediately. What is CTE? Researchers at Boston University define CTE as “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” Simply put, it is inevitable death.

Obviously, football is a violent game with constant blows to the head. Each hit intensifies the brain damage. Over time, this excessive aggravation influences the development of CTE. The disease’s major effect is its ability to deteriorate the brain. The brain’s reaction to CTE is compared to that of Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is not being addressed with the gravity that it deserves.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ and Boston University recently conducted a study of the brains of nearly 100 deceased NFL players to determine how many suffered from CTE. The study revealed that over 95% had CTE.

According to the study, approximately 19 out of 20 NFL players are likely to develop the disease, and while many people believe that the concussion debate is overhyped, it is evident that this is a very real issue. Dr. Ann McKee, a neurology professor at Boston University, states, “People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it. My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.” The research shows that the unfortunate reality of this disease is that it is stripping people of their lives.

Many argue that the NFL is doing all that it can to protect its players. They argue that by implementing new rules meant to penalize illegal hits, the amount of concussions will be limited. This argument, however, is easily disproved because the number of concussions has actually increased since the new penalty policy has been put in place. In 2014, there were 123 concussions in the NFL. In 2015, after the new rules were enforced, the concussion count drastically increased to 199 – a clear indicator that player safety has a long way to go. Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman reiterated that sentiment, saying, “I see a concussion movie every Sunday for free.”

So, next time you turn on the TV and tune into RedZone or ESPN, look beyond the captivation of the game; try to close your eyes and listen. Listen to the crack of the helmets. Listen to the screams as one lays maimed on the ground. Only then will you truly understand the dark side of football.

By Jesse Harwin

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