American football is an inherently physical activity with one of the highest amounts of injuries, so players are bound to get hurt from time to time. In a sport like American football, severe injuries are usually treated as an inherent risk which are best walked off.
But, how many injuries can one walk off before they land themselves a trip to the hospital? Not many, especially when it comes to concussions, which have had an adverse effect on football, its players, and the public’s perception of the sport as a whole. With the upcoming NFL draft on April 28th, the discussion surrounding concussions is more relevant than ever. This article will be discussing the effects of concussions on football and provide an answer to the question: will the next generation of NFL players be safer than the last ones?
According to the article, High school football concussions and long-term health concerns: Research roundup, published on October 20, 2017, “Repeated concussions may cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that can only be diagnosed during an autopsy, and which has been associated with memory loss and depression in former football players. Post-concussion syndrome and traumatic brain injury (a severe concussion) are related conditions.” These injuries have led to the deaths (and, in the cases of Junior Seau and possibly Aaron Hernandez, suicides) of many football players.
What types of behavior do concussions affect? The article 3 possible reasons why Aaron Hernandez committed suicide – Metro US published on April 19, 2017, goes into more detail. Hernandez was speculated to have suffered from CTE, which “[...] triggers massive changes in the personalities of those it afflicts — leading to depression, addiction and violent behavior.”
Response to these injuries have affected former NFL players. According to the article, The Bonus: Why did Junior Seau kill himself? Exploring athletes and depression - Sports Illustrated published on July 2, 2012, “Thousands more [retired professional athletes] are now suing the NFL for doing too little to prevent head injuries [....]”
The NFL “doing too little” is referring to the fact that the NFL has infamously been found to have covered up CTE research, a story explained in more detail in the article, The NFL Tried to Intimidate Scientists Studying the Link between Pro Football and Traumatic Brain Injury, published October 11, 2017. The article states that, “The NFL went after the reputation of [Dr. Bennet, who discovered CTE] Omalu and the other scientists who subsequently worked on CTE.”
As news of these injuries and suicides spread outside of the NFL and to the public, panic ensued. Movies such as Concussion (2015) were being made that portrayed the topic and the NFL in a negative light, adversely affecting the latter’s reputation and, according to the article, the-decline-of-football-is-real-and-its-accelerating, “[...] cast a dark shadow over the sport [football].”
Football’s bad reputation has contributed to increased concerns for player safety and, as the article Youth Football Participation Declining Amid Safety Concerns | Healthiest Communities Health News | U.S. News published on January 24, 2023 points out, a steady decrease in player participation.
The article states that, “The latest survey release from the NFHS – the first since 2018-19 – shows that the 2021-22 school year was the first on record with fewer than a million players participating in 11-player high school football in America since the turn of the century.” Parents are now more worried than ever about their child’s safety.
This new wave of concern for safety has affected how football is played altogether. According to the article, Gear Innovations: How technology is making youth football safer | Youth1, published in 2018, “Some schools, like St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale are investing in Mobile Virtual Players, or robotic dummies that [‘]run[‘] across the field and simulate offensive players.” The dummies are said to give players time to rest during practice, where the article states that 62% of all organized sports injuries occur.
There are other ways the article says football is looking to reduce injuries. These include helmetless practices and the use of better technology such as Zero1, a soft-shell helmet “[...] that deforms on impact and a column-like inner structure intended to absorb impact and disperse its force, [‘] Abigail Tracy writes at Forbes. [‘] There is also an additional rigid layer inside the helmet.[‘].”
According to the article, STUDY: Football Practice Without Helmets Reduces Concussion Risk, Improves Tackling Ability published January 7, 2016, American football helmets have, paradoxically, been believed to cause more head injuries than they solve.
The belief, proposed by the University of New Hampshire’s chairman of the department of kinesiology Dr. Eric Swartz, states that “[...] the key to making football safer involves taking the helmet off entirely.” The theory is based partly on rugby players, who Swartz says “[...] sustain fewer head injuries than football players, despite the fact that they don’t wear helmets.”
The article goes on to state that “Helmets can give players a sense of security about the safety of their heads, which can lead them to endure unnecessary head impacts. Helmets are also incredibly hard, and they can produce tremendous impact, leading some players to use them as a weapon.”
So, will this next generation of NFL players be safer than the last? Given the recent studies into concussions and the new technology being developed to ensure player safety, it certainly seems so. Coaches and staff are trying to lower the risk of injuries on the field in order for everyone to be safe, but just because new measures are in place does not mean that there is no risk of injury. This means that, now more than ever, these types of injuries should be taken seriously.
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