Fall Sports

Is Football Fatal?

Since 1869, football has been an exciting pastime for Americans, but recent research may reveal flaws in this favorite sport. Actor Will Smith aims to do just that in his new movie, “Concussion,” coming out this Christmas.

Football players have an increased risk of suffering from severe concussions. What is less known is that these repeated head injuries might have the potential to be fatal, according to new research provided in “Concussion.”

This year alone, seven high school football players have died from football related injuries. Within one week, Texas football player Cam’ron Matthews died after collapsing on the field, and Illinois football player Andre Smith died after sustaining “blunt force head injuries due to a football accident.”

The recent media attention has caused confusion on the topic. Football is an aggressive game, but CNN reported that the deaths cannot necessarily be credited to football itself.

“Concussion” seeks to prove otherwise. The movie, which is based on a true story, reveals information on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE. CTE is defined as a degenerative disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. This disease cannot be diagnosed until after death, making it impossible to treat.

Although little is known about this condition, “Concussion” intends to bring to light the disease and to highlight preventative measures, particularly for football players who tend to be more exposed to possible head collisions. In his movie, the protagonist, portrayed by Smith, tries to alert players that “repetitive head trauma chokes the brain,” but is warned that the National Football League (NFL) will be unreceptive to anything said. Disregard to such information has resulted in numerous lawsuits, many injuries and frequent questions among the public.

Mt. Hebron alumnus Kara Donovan pursued her questions through extensive research and in-depth interviews. Through information received from former Buffalo Bills player Gary Baldinger, Donovan was able to gain insight regarding how concussion protocol has evolved over time. In 1990, when Baldinger was an active player in the NFL, concussion protocol was very lenient.

“If a player took a hard hit, they would give him smelling salts to wake him up then send him back in the game,” said Donovan. “If a player could recall simple things such as his name and where he’s from, he could return to the game.”

After numerous lawsuits, and out of concern for the players’ health and well-being, protocol became stricter.

“Nowadays, any hard hit is cause for a full medical examination. And if it is even suspected that there is a concussion, the player can’t return to the game,” said Donovan.

Two Mt. Hebron football players tackle a Centennial player during a game earlier this year.

Two Mt. Hebron football players tackle a Centennial player during a game earlier this year.

Even with the drastic evolution of concussion protocol, Donovan still feels that there is much to improve. Previously unaware of the football deaths this year and the movie, “Concussion,” she feels that both will have a major impact on future football protocol.

She explained, “Anything that increases the public knowledge of concussions and the risks associated with them will impact football protocol.”

Donovan feels that it could be beneficial to make players aware of these tragic stories as a means of increasing their understanding of the seriousness of concussions and their effects. She hopes that both the catastrophic stories and the potentially controversial movie will serve as a positive step toward bringing awareness to this serious issue.

Sophomore Joey Schwartz is a Mt. Hebron football player who shares some of these same opinions and concerns. Schwartz is aware of the movie, “Concussion,” and the high school football deaths this year, feeling that both will result in “more focus on improving football rules and regulations to protect players and help prevent concussions,” he said.

Although having no knowledge about the causes and risks associated with CTE, Schwartz feels that it would be valuable for the football team to learn about the condition so that they are aware of causes and can take the preventative steps necessary to ensure they do not get this disease.

In regards to football being potentially fatal, however, Schwartz said, “Honestly, football is a physical sport, but I don’t really think I’m likely to die playing it,” adding that football fatality “is due more to previous injuries than to football itself.”

Every year thousands of players are eligible to be drafted by the NFL, and roughly 15% of them are injured each season. Nonetheless, young boys everywhere have hopes of becoming professional football players when they grow up. The potential dangers do not have to end these hopes and dreams; they simply have to make players aware.

As Donovan said, “Players [need to] understand that every time they put on that helmet, there is a risk for a concussion.”

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