When Will It Be Acceptable To Question Football?

Last week the New York Times published a report which found that 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players studied by Dr. Ann McKee, a leading neuroscientist were found to have CTE. CTE is a rare brain disorder caused by repeated head trauma.

For years now a growing body of research has shown that shown that playing football can lead to long-term, negative health results. These studies are increasingly hard to ignore. The correlation between football, concussions, and CTE is being established more and more with each new study.

Concussions that were once euphemistically described as “having your bell rung” or “seeing stars” are still a part of America’s game. And there appears to be little that the NFL or any other football league can do to take the inherent danger out of football.

2013 was a watershed year. That was the year that football-related concussions and CTE became national headlines. PBS Frontline released the documentary, A League of Denial, which brought the issue of football, concussions, and CTE to a mainstream audience. That was also the year that the NFL settled a $765 million lawsuit with former NFL players who alleged that the NFL had hidden its knowledge of concussions and related long-term health problems from them for decades.

Some rules have been changed in an effort to reduce concussions. But concussions continue to be prevalent in the NFL. Unable or unwilling to ignore the dangers of football, some NFL players are walking away from careers that have just begun.  John Urschel of the Baltimore Ravens announced his retirement shortly after the latest CTE study came out. This latest study really clarifies the risk that NFL athletes are taking each time they kneel down on the line of scrimmage.

The Charlotte Observer reported that members of the Carolina Panthers were alarmed by the latest study which further clarifies the link between the NFL and CTE. The Observer has called the Carolina Panthers the “face of [the] NFL’s concussion struggle.”

The Panther’s most valuable player, quarterback Cam Newton, a.k.a Superman has missed games from concussions in his relatively short NFL career. Defensive standout Luke Kueckly has also missed several games with concussions.

But Newton and Kueckly’s concussions are nothing compared to those suffered by offensive lineman Michael Oher. Oher was released recently by the Panthers after failing to pass his team physical. Oher has spent months in the league’s mandated concussion protocol program. Oher didn’t recover from his last concussion, therefore he didn’t pass his physical and was cut from the team.

That’s the harsh reality of life in the NFL for the majority of NFL players. They get paid millions for a short-period of time, then they get unceremoniously released when they eventually succumb to football-related injuries.

Oher was the subject of the 2009 film, The Blind Side. But there’s no Hollywood ending for Michael Oher. Instead, he’s hurt, unemployed and appears to be spiraling downward.

In the wake of the latest and most damning study connecting the dots between football and CTE I have been looking to see how the corporate media covered the story. Apart from a few good articles on the subject, the media has produced a collective yawn. They’re so busy promoting football, they just don’t have the time or the inclination to question the fundamental safety of football.

Only on the margins of the mainstream, in publications like the Nation do you find an honest assessment of football in light of the most recent evidence on the subject. Dave Zirin asks the question that other journalists should be asking, does football have a future?

The answer is yes, only if we’re content to ignore the evidence. The Precautionary Principle requires us to act when there is substantial evidence of a problem or danger and not wait until we have 100 percent complete certainty.

No one likes to think about the end of football, our national pastime, a game that has become ingrained into the fabric of our culture. But widespread smoking and many other loathsome behaviors have been part of our nation’s history. When the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on Smoking and Health was issued 42 percent of the population smoked. Now that number is around 15 percent. Scientific facts drive change. Our country’s relationship with football is destined to decline.






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