The Impact of Concussions on Former Football Players
Football is the most popular sport in the country.
Faithful fans follow their favorite NFL teams throughout the season and colleges with big football programs packed their stadiums week after week.
High school football provides thrills for players, students, and community members. As a physical contact sport, football players are often injured. Damage to knees, shoulders and other joints is common as are neck and rib injuries. Among the worst potential football injuries are concussions. They can cause damage to the brain that can manifest long after players have hung up their cleats.
From the NFL, down through Pop Warner leagues, careful concussion protocols are in place starting with severe penalties for helmet-to-helmet contact. Players who are struck in the head must be sidelined until a thorough examination can be done. This was not always the case.
Going back to the 1980s and beyond, striking with the head and to the head of an opponent was a part of the game and encouraged by many coaching staffs. When a player staggered off the field after a blow to the head, an examination generally consisted of asking “How many fingers am I holding up”? A correct answer was all that was needed to stay in the game. Now, decades later, scores of players have been dealing with numerous mental health issues, leading to actions such as the NCAA concussion lawsuit involving the death of former USC linebacker, Matthew Gee.
Conditions Caused By Concussions
A Havard University study of 3,500 former NFL players looked at their current cognitive states and the number of concussions and head trauma they suffered during their careers. The findings were significant. Players who reported suffering multiple concussions during their playing days, including symptoms such as nausea, disorientation, and loss of consciousness were far more likely to be afflicted with depression, anxiety, and impaired cognitive function years after they retired. Dementia and ALS were other diseases linked to concussions.
College and High School Players
Mental health issues are not limited to former professional football players. Another study was conducted with players who participated in football in high school and college. These results too pointed to executive dysfunction, cognitive impairment, and depression in later life. In fact, the study discovered that after just one season, college players had less midbrain white matter than they had before the season began.
In high school athletics, football causes far more concussions than any other sport. Compounding the problem is that many high school players don’t report their concussion symptoms, feeling an obligation to their teams. This can lead to serious health issues and even death. Coaches who encourage aggressive play and leading with the helmet while tackling are putting their players at great risk. The number of lawsuits filed on behalf of former players suffering concussion-related problems will most likely increase as more data is compiled.
Football is a fun sport to watch and play. The physicality and aggressive nature cause numerous injuries. Concussions are perhaps the worst and can cause serious mental and physical health issues decades after the player has quit the game. Making the game safer through the development of better equipment and rules that discourage blows to the head is essential to preventing these issues for future players.