America’s national pastime has been under increased scrutiny over the past couple of years, from complaints over team names to controversies over head injuries among its players. It was the relatively recent string of suicides among NFL veterans that prompted a closer examination of football safety practices, eventually culminating in a number of lawsuits filed against both the NFL and the NCAA. Many hope that this will lead to a better understanding of head injuries and a clearer focus on player safety.
There is no denying that football is, and always will be, a highly physical sport. Player collisions are an inescapable part of the game, and though blows to the head are “illegal”, they still happen with alarming regularity. Football players are covered in protective gear but they still accounted for the second highest number of head injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2009. Chief among these head injuries are concussions resulting from blows to the head.
Concussions are generally classified as mild traumatic brain injuries, but there is a growing body of evidence that indicates concussions among sports players might be more serious than previously recognized. In many instances, blows to the head do not result in obvious symptoms. As such, coaches and trainers may mistakenly assume that a player is fine to continue playing. Compounding the issue, players tend to keep quiet about head injuries because they do not want to jeopardize their future in the league. Unfortunately, repeated blows to the head can have disastrous and irreversible consequences.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to repeated blows to the head. The progression of the disease is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and dementia. Unfortunately, like many degenerative brain diseases, the effects of CTE are irreversible and many players who suffer from it, including Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Terry Long, and Andre Waters, have committed suicide. This fact alone, however, fails to portray the pervasiveness of this condition. Of the 34 former players who have died and donated their brain to research, over 90 percent of them have pathologically confirmed CTE.
The growing attention placed on head injuries in football has led many states to pursue legislation aimed at preventing “second impact syndrome,” a situation where the player receives an additional head injury before he or she has recovered from the first. The growing awareness of CTE has also led the NFL to work with the NIH, CDC and other organizations to promote a better understanding of CTE and long-term health and safety of its athletes.
About the Author: Edward Allen is an accomplished trial attorney with the law firm of Allen & Allen, where he is the managing partner of the Fredericksburg office. Edward has tried and won an impressive variety of personal injury cases in state and federal courts including car accidents and truck accidents, premises liability and traumatic brain injury.
 Liz Neporent, Football Head Injuries Increasing Because of Bigger, Faster Players, ABC News (Jan. 11, 2013), www.abcnews.go.com/Health/football-head-injuries-increasing-bigger-faster -players/story?id=18183735&singlePage=true
 What is CTE?, BU CTE Center, www.bu.edu/cte/about/what-is-cte/
 Neporent, Football Head Injuries.