The Football Debate: Is the NFL to Blame for Head Injuries?
When we talk about injuries in the workplace, people often think of accidents that happen in places like construction sites, oil rigs, and factories, but accidents can happen in any imaginable type of working environment if employers aren’t careful. This is also true for people who work in less conventional environments, such as on film sets or on football fields.
For millions of people across the country, spending a Sunday afternoon cheering for their favorite football team is their idea of a fun time. But for the athletes, preparing for game day and playing in games is their job. Football is such a fun thing for us to watch, it’s easy to forget that game day is work for the athletes involved.
Being a professional football player is an extremely physically demanding career and it’s very easy for players to be injured during a game. Football players are at risk for anything from pulled muscles to broken bones, concussions, and other head injuries. While a lot of these injuries may seem like unavoidable parts of the job, lately, many people are questioning whether or not the NFL could be doing more to keep players safe on the field.
Just because a person has a job that seems “cool,” “fun,” or makes them rich and famous, that doesn’t mean a person should have to face unnecessary dangers on the job. Many people have accused the NFL of failing to adequately protecting players from concussions and brain injuries and of trying to cover up the connection between football and brain injuries. The reality is that concussions and brain injuries are a very serious problem for football players.
In April 2016, a study from the the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) showed that over 40% of retired NFL players had signs of traumatic brain injuries. This study showed that the rate of traumatic brain injuries in football players is significantly higher than it is in the general population. The former players involved in this study had spent an average of seven years playing in the NFL and had sustained an average 8.1 concussions during their career.
The study from the AAN wasn’t first study to show this connection. In September 2015, Frontline published a study showing that 96% of former NFL players they studied had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of brain degradation that tends to happen as the result of repeated head traumas. The study also found that 79% of all football players (people who had played football in high school, college, semi-professionally, or professionally) had CTE. CTE is a condition that is also often found in boxers.
Numbers from the NFL show that head trauma in football players is hardly a rare occurrence. Their 2015 injury report showed that occurrences of head trauma in players rose 32% between 2014 and 2015. On top of it all, more attention was brought to the subject in 2015 when the movie Concussion, based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu and his battle against the NFL for trying to suppress research about CTE in football players, was released.
Football head injuries are hardly a recent revelation, either. Thousands of players have filed personal injury lawsuits against the NFL for problems caused by concussions and head injuries. In April, the NFL paid about $1 billion to settle many of those lawsuits. In light of all this scrutiny and controversy, what is the NFL doing to make things better? In September, the NFL announced they would be spending $100 million on initiatives to improve medical research and improve equipment to prevent head injuries. But after some recent controversies over potentially-injured players not being removed from games, not everyone is satisfied that the NFL is taking brain injury prevention seriously.