The Other Side of the Coin: Hidden Dangers in Football

Football is a wildly popular sport, but now, some are questioning if it should continue to be played.

Would you let your kid play football? This is a question that has started to be asked more and more over the past few years. The dangers of football are apparent. It is a game where opposing players are supposed to essentially attack each other, and it is within the laws of play to do so. Football players break bones and tear muscles all the time, but this doesn’t stop anyone from playing it. Recently however, there has been a discussion about the unseen effects of football and what it can do to one’s mental health long after they have quit playing. Therefore, parents and kids everywhere are starting to wonder if they should be playing football.  

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disease caused by repeated head trauma that can only be discovered in someone after they have died. Often, this means that CTE is a result of recurring concussions which are brain injuries caused by a blow or blows to the head. Concussions, and in turn, CTE are typically seen in sports players as well, specifically football players. Evidently, this is due to the violent nature of football and the art of tackling. Tackles are not purposely performed with intent to injure other players, but it often happens when very strong people are knocking each other down at full speed. Heads get hit, and concussions happen. If this happens too many times, CTE often follows and leads to a host of issues revolving around impaired brain function. 

As mentioned previously, CTE has momentous effects on those who endure it, and that is unfortunately very well known due to the historical examples of those who suffered from it. Mike Webster, a long time Pittsburgh Steeler, suffered from various mental illnesses caused by CTE, and he even lived in his car for a period of time when it became too much to handle. In 2002, a very misunderstood Webster passed away from a heart attack at only 50 years old. 

The dangers of football are apparent. It is a game where opposing players are supposed to essentially attack each other, and it is within the laws of play to do so.”

Another Steelers’ player ruined by CTE was Justin Strzelczyk. Following the conclusion of his career in 1998, Strzelczyk started to exemplify unsettling behavior as a result of CTE (unbeknownst to him and everyone else at the time). Strzelczyk began down a dark path and turned to alcohol to numb the pain. On the morning of September 30, 2004, he took a drive down the wrong side of the highway at staggering speeds before crashing into a large truck and dying. Unfortunately, this was most likely caused by a mental breakdown from his CTE. 

One of the worst cases of CTE ever seen by someone aged only 27 was in former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez. In mid-2013, Hernandez was accused and convicted of murdering Odin Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison. A few years into his sentence, Hernandez committed suicide in his cell in early 2017. Following his death, doctors at Boston University discovered this horrendous CTE case and concluded that this was likely the cause of his irrational behavior including the murder. 

Recently, legendary Chargers wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, passed away at the age of 38. After the news broke, it was revealed that Jackson was a raging alcoholic who often acted illogically. It is still unknown what the cause of his death was, but his brain has since been donated to Boston University to be examined for CTE. 

Bennet Omalu, portrayed by Will Smith in the movie Concussion, has become a pioneer in researching CTE. Omalu is a Nigerian-born pathologist who has dedicated his work to examining the deceased. Following the death of Mike Webster back in 2002, Omalu was tasked with conducting an autopsy on Webster. What he found was that Webster’s brain was severely battered and bruised. He was shocked to find a brain of this condition in a football player at this age. Previously, very little conversation had been had about CTE, and many thought it only affected boxers. Since then, the floodgates have opened as CTE discussion is rampant in today’s world. Boston University has opened its own CTE research group headed by Ann McKee which works to learn more about the disease with hopes of preventing and treating it. In a group of 111 deceased NFL players, 110 of them were found to have had CTE, a shocking statistic. 

In a group of 111 deceased NFL players, 110 of them were found to have had CTE, a shocking statistic. ”

Since the death of Mike Webster, 47 rule changes have been instituted into the NFL to prevent extreme head injuries. Many plays and tackles that were legal years ago are now subject to a penalty or even a fine should it be severe enough as the NFL is fully committed to taking proper safety precautions. They have also donated over 200 million dollars to neurological research in recent years. Treatment of concussions and CTE has improved in the NFL as they ensure to field a minimum of 29 medical professionals at every game. Before, a player who was thought to have suffered a blow to the head may have come out of the game for only a few plays, but now, extensive measures are taken and tests are administered to uphold player safety.

As time goes on, there is still much to learn about CTE and its impact on players. However, if one thing is for sure, it is that CTE is a highly dangerous condition that should be prevented in any way possible. Acknowledging this, football is still one of my favorite sports to both play and watch, and I am optimistic that the safety of the game will only improve in the coming years from the youth level all the way to the NFL.