Reality Check: Football-Related Head Trauma Is No Fantasy
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Earlier today, I set a date with a group of friends for our annual fantasy football draft. The inaugural season of our league, the BSFL, was way back in the previous millennium in a far and distant time known as 1997, when the game was still in its adolescence. Back then, we were all in junior high. Our jeans were baggy, our teeth were braced, and our grades seemed irrelevant.
In the 16 year existence of the BSFL, a lot has changed with the members of the league. We all remain close, but some of us have gotten married, some have children, a few have moved away, and all of us have put on a few pounds. We’ve grown up… kind of. What hasn’t changed, is our rabid obsession with professional football and our fictional manipulation of the statistics of each game: an obsession shared by roughly 35 million Americans who play fantasy football.
Over the last 20 years, fantasy football has matured into one of the most popular games on the planet, representing over 1 billion dollars in annual revenue, according to US News and World Report. Coinciding with the rise of this glorious exercise in nerdery, the NFL has seen a colossal increase in their audience and revenue over the last two decades. Television contracts are massive, player’s salaries have ballooned, and ticket prices are absurd.
Despite a labor dispute that nearly wiped out the regular season in 2011, everyone involved with the fiscal side of the sport has reason to smile. As the NFL has developed into one of the most successful businesses in the history of this country, it’s safe to say that the sport has eclipsed baseball as America’s unofficial pastime. The only thing threatening to derail this locomotive of success is the inherent and ubiquitous violence within the sport - specifically, the sharp increase in concussions.
The Perfect Storm
Considering the physical nature of the game, it’s actually kind of shocking that it took this long for concussions to move to the forefront of most discussions about football. The game features unparalleled violence. Chiseled, 6'2", 250 lb., 25 year-old men purposefully collide with one another dozens of times over the course of three hours, at speeds of roughly 18 mph, and they do this on a weekly basis for at least four months.
Over the last few years, a perfect storm has been brewing consisting of several high-profile suicides by former players and hundreds of lawsuits that have merged into a massive class-action suit alleging the NFL of negligence in their responsibility toward chronic traumatic encephalopathy (progressive brain damage caused by head trauma). As these suits have been filed, the concussion conversation has been catapulted onto the headlines of every sports page in every newspaper in America.
Now that their pockets are being pilfered, the NFL is seeking drastic rule changes to promote safety. The bad news is that these rule changes could significantly alter the essence of the game.
One of the proposed rule changes is the dissolution of the “kick-off” in order to avoid high-speed collisions to unsuspecting players. Obviously, this speaks to the heart of the concussion issue, and the change would definitely make the game safer. It seems contradictory however, as league executives push to lengthen the season, which would obviously lead to an increase in injuries.
The problem for the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, is that these types of necessary rule changes will also make the game less appealing. As the game becomes safer, the essence of the sport will no longer be the same.
The Youth of the Nation
The reason so many Americans are drawn to The Expendables, UFC, and roll-over accidents on the side of the freeway is the appalling sense of potential catastrophe associated with them. The same perverse suspense is present on every play in a football game from Pee-Wee to the NFL, which is why something needs to be done in the lower levels of the sport immediately.
Parents and family enjoy watching their youngsters play football, and there’s no question that the sport builds character through sportsmanship and commitment, but our children need to be monitored closely. I don’t think youth football should be discouraged, but it is important that we faze out condescending terms and phrases like “stinger” and “walk it off.” A concussion is so much more serious than “getting your bell rung.”
Sure football is a physical game that involves occasionally playing through a modicum of pain, but ignoring symptoms of a concussion isn’t worth the consequences, which can be quite severe. If your child exhibits these symptoms as a result of their involvement with the team, remove him or her from the game, practice, team, etc. IMMEDIATELY and consult a physician:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Mood swings
- Balance problems
- Difficulty sleeping
- Ringing in the ears
- Memory loss
Head trauma among younger people can be especially severe as their brains and skull are still maturing and growing well into early adulthood. So if your child does suffer a concussion, make sure that they are cleared by a specialist before returning to the field. It might seem silly, especially if a big game is on the horizon or a starting position is up for grabs, but the long-term consequences of multiple concussions resulting in chronic traumatic encephalopathy are severe.
With CTE, several years, maybe even decades, after experiencing the actual injuries, the initial symptoms of a concussion return. These symptoms quickly transition into more intense issues, often of a psychological nature. Keep in mind, these symptoms are progressive and degenerative and diagnosis can be difficult to make with any degree of certainty. Usually, the disease isn’t officially recognized unless an autopsy is performed.
- Significant changes in mood
- Aggressive behavior
- Speech impairment
On May 2nd of this year, Pro Bowler and philanthropist, Junior Seau, shot himself in the chest in his Oceanside, California home. Throughout his career, Seau was a feared player on the field, and a well-liked and respected human being off it. He created the Junior Seau Foundation in 1992 in order to educated children about the dangers of substance abuse and give them opportunities to excel in their communities. He donated millions of dollars to various philanthropic outlets over the course of his brief life. His brain tissue has been donated to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke where it will be examined for signs of CTE.
Junior Seau’s tragic death was not a fantasy. His pain was not a fantasy. Concussions are not a fantasy. Appropriate administrative and medical personnel at all levels of the game need to unite and make a concerted effort toward the prevention and treatment of concussions. Further, as fans, we need to recognize the bigger picture and respect and support the need for increased safety measures to protect our players. Football may be big business, but life is too precious to be quantified by dollars and cents.