Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Finally Starting to Get It

Win McNamee/Getty Images

For years, concussions have been a major topic of conversation around football. The NFL is changing rules to eliminate concussions. Players are wearing new and better types of helmets to prevent concussions.

For years, that has allowed us to avoid the real issue.

Today on, Jonathan Mahler is trying to drag the conversation back where it belongs, with a piece entitled "There Is No Concussion Crisis in Football".
The biggest NFL story of the week may not have been Jovan Belcher’s horrific murder-suicide in Kansas City, Missouri, but the release of a small study in the scientific journal Brain. And we may yet learn that the two are intertwined.

The four-year study looked, posthumously, at the brains of 85 athletes and soldiers. Fifty were former football players, 33 in the National Football League. The study found that the incurable degenerative disease known as CTE -- chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- is just as likely to be caused by a routine hit to the head as it is by a big, concussive blow.

"This is a disease of total, overall repetitive brain trauma," one of the researchers said.

In other words: Football doesn't have a concussion problem. It has an existential one. By calling it anything else, we are doing the brain-trauma issue a grave disservice.
Thank you, Mr. Mahler. Thank you.

I've been saying this for years. My skin crawls every time an ESPN personality waxes on about concussions, or about how the latest wonder helmet prevents them, as if a helmet could stop the brain from moving around inside the skull.

Football is a violent game that came of age at a time when the men who play it were smaller, slower and less protected. As the game has grown, players have gotten faster and bigger (William "the Refrigerator" Perry wouldn't be able to earn his nickname today). They have become more armored, which has allowed them to shake off the immediate effects of hits that would have knocked their fathers out of games.

I'm glad that the NFL, after years of ignoring the issue, has finally decided to admit the problem. I'm glad that they've started making rule changes to eliminate helmet-to-helmet contact as much as is possible. I'm glad that they're continuing to evaluate new ways of making the game safer, even if it means eliminating kickoffs.

I'm especially glad that national writers such as Jonathan Mahler are trying to keep the conversation honest.

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