Football, No Stranger to Danger

The+comparison+of+a+normal+brain+and+the+brain+of+former+college+player+Greg+Ploetz.
The comparison of a normal brain and the brain of former college player Greg Ploetz.

The comparison of a normal brain and the brain of former college player Greg Ploetz.

The comparison of a normal brain and the brain of former college player Greg Ploetz.

Leonardo Anchondo

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     For a sport that owns the first day of the week, football has started to present serious issues as many football players are suffering from neurological injuries. Neurological injuries are injuries that affect the brain, and have the potential to permanently impair cognitive function. These injuries are happening in all levels, from the the National Football League (NFL), to college and high school football. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is the term used to describe brain degeneration, which is usually caused by repeated hits to the head.

    Three medical doctors at Boston University conducted a study in which they evaluated the presence of CTE on 111 deceased NFL players. Out of the 111 players, 110 showed evidence of CTE.

    This of course is a small sample size compared to the 12,000 former NFL players, however former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, who recently passed away, showed stage three (out of four) of CTE. Hernandez had been imprisoned on June 26, 2013 for the alleged murder of a close family friend. On April 15, 2015 Hernandez was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without a possibility of parole. He commited suicide in his cell on April 19, 2017. Hernandez had been suffering with depression and was known to be hostile. These symptoms are theorized to be shown in a victim once stage 2 of CTE is surpassed.

    According to Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University, Hernandez had one of the most severe cases of CTE ever for his age (he was 27). Stage three of CTE is commonly linked to retired NFL players around 70 years of age.

    Repeated hits towards the head causes degeneration in the brain tissue. One area that is most affected is the frontal cortex, which is responsible for cognition and executive function. Along with that the Insula, amygdala, and mammillary body are all affected by CTE.    

    These are the brain structures responsible for emotion, self-awareness, aggression, anxiety and memory. This corresponds with why many retired football players suffer with depression, anxiety, and memory loss. Unfortunately CTE can only be detected after the athlete passes away, so there is no way of knowing if a living athlete has CTE until their death.

    Data collected from Stanford showed that a football offensive linemen on average sustains 62 hits towards the head a game. This becomes more severe, considering that the average g-force of the hits are around 25.8, which is equivalent to a car crashing into a wall at about 30 m.p.h. If the average offensive lineman takes up to 62 hits per game, the accumulation of all games in their season plus their practices could affect them physically and mentally later on in their life.

    Although playing football at a higher level like the NFL comes at a big risk, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell states that the average NFL player lives five more years than the average person. Goodell’s statement lacked initial backing evidence in 2016, but in 2012 the American Journal of Cardiology published a study which found that players who played in the NFL do in fact live longer than the average American man by nearly 5 years.

    The NFL industry has promoted many ways in which young kids can pursue the game of football without having to tackle, one way being through flag football. Along with that lawmakers have stepped in to take issues into their own hands. Bills have been introduced into many states including Colorado, in which players who have suffered a concussion cannot return to play on the same day as the injury and must be medically approved before returning to their sport.

    Every player has the right to know the consequences of playing football in every level of the game. As football has risen to the top of the chart in popularity here in America, many young kids look up to professional football players as role model, this in turn motivates them to want to play football. Although the sport of football is great, people of all ages need to know what the risks are before committing to football.

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