I have a problem with football – a couple of them actually, and Superbowl Sunday seems as good a time as any to bring them up. My primary objection has to do with the incredible incidence of brain injury sustained by players as they repeatedly slam into one another and onto the ground during play. Helmets protect the skull and the neck, but they can’t protect the brain itself from getting sloshed around inside the skull as the players’ bodies rapidly decelerate. These repeated injuries are resulting in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that results in depression, paranoia, aggression, early dementia and suicide. According to the Washington Times, there are currently more than 4,000 player-plaintiffs involved in lawsuits with the NFL, who are suffering from the long-term effects of game play. It isn’t just limited to adults, either: Here in Massachusetts last September, five children in one Pop Warner game suffered concussions severe enough that they missed several days of school afterward. Even President Obama has expressed his concerns, and Bernard Pollard, safety for today’s game-winning Ravens, says he doesn’t believe anything will change until someone dies on the field.
While there are certainly things that can be done to mitigate the injuries players suffer, the game is inherently unsafe. While any sport or activity carries risk, we need to differentiate between the risk of a broken arm and that of degenerative neurological disease. There is no “game” worth that kind of sacrifice.