For many years, I have wondered why more attention hasn’t been paid to the constant head-butting that goes on in football, and other sports that our children are playing.
I was recently able to watch the new movie Concussion starring Will Smith and was so happy to see that Hollywood is now bringing attention to this issue.
The movie was about the recognition by a courageous pathologist from Nigeria named Bennet Omalu,M.D., of a new brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The reason it took so long to recognize this disease is that it can only be diagnosed after death, by examining the brain under a microscope.
CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease that is found in some athletes with a history of repeated brain trauma. More than 50 former NFL players have been diagnosed with the disease after their death, so far.
With this disease, nothing is seen on an MRI or CAT scan of the brain while the person is alive. This is the reason that the NFL was able to argue for so long that there is no evidence of damage to its players’ brains.
In April 2015, a class action lawsuit brought by more than 5000 ex-NFL players reached a settlement. The agreement allowed up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma. Of note, over 200 former players opted out of settling the lawsuit so that they could sue the NFL on their own.
In November 2015, former players’ attorneys appealed the NFL’s $1 billion plan to address concussion-linked injuries in former players because the plan excluded the diagnosis of CTE, which is the signature brain disease of football, from being compensated!
In addition, the movie with Will Smith brings out the point that one condition for the settlement was that the NFL did not have to reveal to the public what it knew about brain related injuries, or when it knew it.
In a recent court hearing, there is a significant quote from the NFL head lawyer Paul Clement. He stated that:
“The science could determine that all that matters for CTE is the concussive hits you took before your 18th birthday.”
As a physician I think it very unlikely that CTE results exclusively from the head injuries occurring before the age of 18. This comment will have repercussions for the NFL, when thousands of mothers hear this remark and stop their children from playing football.
Most likely, it is the accumulation of the head injuries over the course of an individual’s life that leads to these tragic diagnoses.
I wrote this article largely to bring this issue to the attention of the mothers that get my email and read my blog, whose sons are playing football. Another quote from the end of the movie is that actuaries have calculated that anyone playing football has a 28% chance of ending up with some type of brain disorder including CTE.
I also ask the same question regarding “heading” the ball in soccer. Does that knock out IQ points in our kids?
There is a quote from the movie where the NFL rep says to Dr Amalu: “Do you understand the impact of what you are doing? If just 10% of the mothers in America decide that football is too dangerous for their sons to play, that is IT. It is the end of football.”
Are you in that 10%?
Please read some of the links I give you below to see what is happening with this issue.
Here is an excellent interview and discussion of the movie and on concussions from NPR:
Here is a video-albeit simple-of what happens to the brain with a concussion:
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