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Sep-19-2022 12:18printcomments

Is Tackle Football Unsafe?

Why does anyone become a football player at any level with these health risks? Money.

brain damage
Image: OMICS Int'l

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA.) - Another football season has started and injuries are already piling up. Maybe it is again time to ask whether football is safe, especially at the high school level.

Consider that the following study published in the July 25, 2017 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association found the following:

    "In a convenience sample of 202 deceased players of American football from a brain donation program, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87%), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99%). . . . [S]uggesting that CTE may be related to prior participation in football.”

It was also found in three of the 14 high school players and 48 of the 53 college players.

The symptoms of C.T.E. include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.

Every parent should read about Junior Seau, a former linebacker for the San Diego Chargers who took his own life. Seau suffered from the degenerative brain disease commonly found in former football players.

The clear conclusion of this and other studies is that football is not a safe sport and it is unlikely it can be made safe. NFL players are our gladiators taking the field to do battle for our entertainment.

Unlike the gladiators of old, they do not fight to the death on game day, but will likely pay a dreadful price in the future.

The gladiators did not have a choice; our young men do. In the meantime, the NFL, colleges and universities will continue to rake in the profits from today's gladiators. But you say football players wear helmets -- shouldn’t that protect them? Actually, helmets are designed to protect the skull—not the brain. The brain can be hurt as it smashes against the skull, causing a range of symptoms including headaches and loss of consciousness.

Why does anyone become a football player at any level with these health risks? The major reason, I suspect, is the prospect of making lots of money.

An NFL football player averages $2.7 million in salary plus endorsements. Colleges and universities are the minor leagues of NFL football and they in turn draw their football players from high schools.

But even knowing the likely risks why do they play then: the so-called Goldman Dilemma is instructive:

    "Researcher Bob Goldman surveyed elite athletes every other year from 1982 to 1995. He asked them a simple question. If you could take a drug that guaranteed you would win an Olympic gold medal, but it would kill you within five years, would you do it? In every survey, Goldman got the same results. About half of the athletes would accept that trade-off."

At one time, football players knew the risks of injury but not the risks of head trauma that could follow them long after retirement. Now they do. Because most high school students are too young to truly consider the danger of the sport, football should at least be banned at the high school level.

Unfortunately, NFL football is a multi-billion dollar industry and will continue to attract young men seeking fame and fortune so football will likely continue as before. Sure, the NFL will enact new rules and provide better equipment, but no matter how you parse it, football is just too dangerous to play.

However, there has been a decline in high school football participation at least in California. For 2021-22, 84,626 played football, down from 89,756 in 2019-20 and down from 91,305 in 2018-19. There has been a decline every season since 2015. It is unclear whether this downward trend will continue. If so, it would surely be welcome.

The reasons for the declining interest in high school football certainly includes parental concern over safety and lack of age-based restrictions for tackle football.

Is tackle football unsafe? Yes. Will football continue basically the way it is now? Probably.

Source: Special Features Dept.


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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.