American football costs much more than we realize

Matthew Rygwelski is a freshman at Delta College studying accounting.

By Matthew Rygwelski, Collegiate correspondent.

Aaron Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013 when he hung himself in his cell on April 17, 2017. He was a former tight end for the New England Patriots from 2010 until 2012. After his death, Hernandez’s brain was given to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center for research. The results found that Hernandez had the most severe symptoms of anyone diagnosed with CTE at his age. His brain had large holes resulting from the breaking down of the Tau protein. This protein controls the nervous system in the body.

While Hernandez is merely one example of CTE, many other former players have been diagnosed with this disease, but others aren’t even aware that they have CTE. This is caused by the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) not doing their parts on educating players and the public about the very real dangers caused by head injuries.

Firstly, what are these head injuries caused by football? There are two main injuries directly connected to playing football; concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Concussions are the far more common of the two, and are also the least severe. According to the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, concussions prevent the brain from functioning normally, which could cause memory loss. Long-term concussions can lead to trouble concentrating, irritability, depression and sleep deprivation. CTE is similar to a concussion, but is more dangerous. CTE causes behavioral issues such as aggression and inability to control thoughts.

The NFL and NCAA both accept the link between football and head injuries, but that’s not enough. They still are trying to hide the issue from the public eye. In an article published in CNN, the former sportscaster Bob Costas explains how he believes he was fired because of his opinions on the topic of head injuries. Costas was set to host the Super Bowl, but because of his thoughts on head injuries, he was fired from the job. According to Costas, NBC told him, “It[the Super Bowl] is a daylong celebration of football, and you are not the right person to celebrate football.” Costas is well known and well respected, and even then the power of the NFL silenced him. The NFL has continued to downplay the significance of head injuries, but in reality they are all too real, and quite common as well.

A study conducted by Boston University found CTE in 110 of the 111 brains that played football. This is an alarmingly high percentage of CTE, proving that it really is a problem. However, the NFL isn’t completely ignoring the problem. According to an article published by the Associated Press, the NFL pledged $100 million to research in neuroscience. This appears to be a lot of money, however, when you consider the fact the NFL is worth an estimated $45 billion, it’s very little. The NFL also was involved with a class action lawsuit, where they agreed to pay $1 billion to a group of 20,000 former players and families. However, only 700 of those players have actually received their payment.

While the big football organizations are doing research, the research isn’t always the most accurate. Chris Borland is a former NFL linebacker, who since his retirement in 2014 has dedicated his time toward working with researchers and talking with the public about CTE. He spoke in front of a U.S. House subcommittee to criticize the NCAA’s research on concussions. His findings showed that the NCAA only reports between one-eighth and one-twentieth of the amount of concussions that occur. Like the NFL, the NCAA is not giving the issue the seriousness it deserves.

In a sport such as football, the only way to be truly safe from a head injury is to not play football. Obviously, that isn’t reasonable possibility, but it is one nevertheless. The NFL needs to be more open about these injuries and make information available to everyone. A bigger focus needs to be on player safety and less on monetary side. As a fan of football, people need to stay informed on this issue and accept the true dangers of the sport. The NFL and NCAA need to be held accountable for their lack of action, and it’s the people that can make a change. Fans need to challenge the NFL and NCAA’s transparency on this topic by speaking out, and simply not giving up until the issue takes the forefront of the NFL and NCAA. Otherwise, the problem with CTE and concussions will grow and the players will not feel safe.

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