A dangerous sport
Legislator Tom Barrraga

Photo provided

A dangerous sport


In a recent article published by PBS “Frontline,” researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 96 percent of NFL players that they have examined and in 79 percent of all football players. The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma (hits) to the head and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression, dementia, emotional instability, suicidal thoughts, impulsive behaviors and aggression.

In total, the lab found CTE in brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals, who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school.

Forty percent of those who tested positive were offensive and defensive linemen who come into constant contact with one another on every play of the game, according to numbers shared by the brain bank with “Frontline.” Boston University researchers estimate that the average high school lineman takes 1,000 to 1,500 hits to the head each season, some at forces equivalent to or greater than a 25-mile-an-hour car crash. A study of some 7- and 8-year-old football players found that some hits generated a force to the head equal to blows delivered in college football.

The latest numbers are “remarkably consistent” with past research, suggesting a link between football and long-term brain disease, said Dr. Ann McKee, director and chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it,” said McKee. “My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease.  We have no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.”  McKee said that her biggest challenge remains “convincing people this is an actual disease.” Whatever pockets of resistance still exists, she said, have primarily come from those with a “vested interest” in football.

We are all very familiar with the physical injuries inherent in football, many of which involve long-term pain and discomfort. Football physically destroys its participants—breaking bones, smashing shoulders and shredding ligaments. The fundamental question is why, based on current scientific findings, would any parent put their child not only in harm’s way of severe physical damage, but long-term brain disease?

In 15 or 20 years, those reassuring football coaches will be nowhere to be found; the screaming fans at the Saturday high school football games will still be screaming, but not for your son. The momentary accolades and the fleeting roar of the crowd are not worth the very serious risk of physical and mental disability.