Worry about your future, don’t rush back to play

The importance of health awareness in the midst of CTE epidemic

Football is a game filled with aggression, violence and a whole lot of testosterone. There rarely is a game of football played on any level — high school, college or professional — where someone doesn’t get knocked around or hurt. But football isn’t just a fun contact sport. It brings a lot more than a few bumps and bruises — it could damage your health in ways that are irreversible.

In November 2015, when “Concussion,” a movie based on real events starring Will Smith, was released, it shocked not only the NFLcommunity and its fans, but it also shined a light on a very important topic: mental and neurological health.

The consequences outweigh any number of touchdowns or tackles.

— Taylor Renk, Opinion Editor

The movie is based on an autopsy made on Pittsburgh Steelers ex-center Mike Webster, who was found dead in his pick-up truck at age 50. Before his death, his actions were out of character. He would often act in a violent and demeaning manner, while also losing his ability to retain memories. An autopsy showed that Webster had severe brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head. His disorder was later given a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or more popularly known as CTE.

Even though CTE can take years to develop in the human brain, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the effects of the disorder are catastrophic, with symptoms including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment and eventually dementia.   

Webster’s case, being the most notable CTE case, took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, yet the controversy surrounding the topic really took center stage in 2013 when the NFL became involved in a plethora of legal issues with their retired players. In August 2013, retired NFL players settled on a $765 million concussion case that included nearly 4,500 impacted former athletes. These athletes have experienced a variety of effects, including depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Affected athletes complained that the NFL would cover up injuries and rush bringing those who were sidelined back to live action before full recovery, resulting in even more health damage. Even though the league denied all accusations, there was an enormous amount of correlations between athletes, their injuries and their eventual disorders — which calls for immediate action to resolve any type of culpabilities and prevent any further occurrences.

Granted, these players worked their entire lives and devoted countless hours with aspirations to make it to the professional ranks, making their time in the NFL completely voluntary. They put their bodies at risk, knowing whole-heartedly what potential impacts on their health they could face, but that does not excuse the NFL for not taking proper care of its players.

Since the movie “Concussion” was released and this lawsuit against the league was settled, the NFL delegated millions of dollars towards concussion research — initially in efforts to defend themselves against any critics of the game of football and the brutality that comes with it. But, eventually the NFL started taking a much sterner stance on the topic of injuries: specifically blows to the head. Just last year, the NFL took a huge leap toward emphasizing player safety through issuing a new helmet rule.

The rule calls for a 15-yard penalty if a player lowers his head and initiates contact with his helmet against his opponent. It covers more than contact with the head or neck, and the torso, hips and lower body are also protected, according to the official fact sheet released by the NFL. With this rule change, players can also be ejected from games if contact is intentional or malicious in any way.

Throughout the 2018-19 NFL season, there was an obvious change in refereeing decisions when hits occurred, resulting in many more penalties and much longer games, but the NFL did what was necessary not only to protect themselves from future lawsuits, but also protect its players from potential life altering disorders.

When everyone thought the players would comply with the NFL’s efforts to protect them, Antonio Brown, a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, proved everyone wrong. After recently being traded out of a self-inflicted, drama-filled environment with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown continued to bring theatrics with him to the West Coast, threatening to retire from football if he were forced to wear the NFL-approved helmets. The main protective device for a player’s head in the game of football is their helmet. The NFL banned any helmet that is older than 10 years, requiring Brown, along with the rest of the league,to upgrade their helmets to the newer versions.

After two lawsuits against the league claiming the NFL approved helmets impair his vision and abilities to catch a football, Brown has been forced by the league either to comply or sit out. There have been many efforts by Brown to sneak his old helmet into practices, yet the NFL has not given in to Brown’s request. The league stands for the protection of its players, and a singular “superstar” is never going to change that. Kudos to the NFL.

No player is bigger than the game, and quite frankly, the NFL could move on and be successful with or without Brown playing. There have been studies and movies made on the drastic effects that blows to the head have on the human brain. Why would anyone ever put themselves and their future health at risk just because of a game they play until they’re 40?

The consequences outweigh any number of touchdowns or tackles. I play collegiate soccer and know that getting hit in the head is nothing to mess with — and I am not on the field with 300-pound men every day.

I am not saying that football is too dangerous to play, but it is more important to take care of oneself than make the Hall of Fame. Wear the helmet. Play smart. It’s just that easy.