Lansing, Michigan


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Devon Glass
Devon Glass
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More reality, less fantasy: football players more likely to suffer brain injuries

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I love fantasy football, even though I only got into it 2 years ago. I never really watched football all that much, mostly because I’m from Detroit and the Lions suck. In the 90’s I used to watch the Lions play every Sunday thanks to my grandfather who had season tickets. Thanks to being involved in fantasy football, I usually watch a lot of football on Sundays to see how my players are doing. It’s sometimes difficult to see the players as real people when playing fantasy football, mostly because they are reduced to statistics based upon how well they play.

But football players are more than statistics, they are people who play a grueling sport that can severely injure them or prematurely cause brain injury. When I went to watch all those Lions games in the 90’s, I do recall one game very well; it was the last game Mike Utley would ever play due to a spinal cord injury. He is now paralyzed from the waist down due to his participation in a sport that glamorizes violence.

According to a recent study, football players aged 30 to 49 have a significantly increased rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to the normal rate. In fact, the study found the rate to be 19 times higher. This is a pretty startling statistic and the National Football League (NFL) is fighting back against allegations that playing football endangers it’s players. The problem for the NFL is the medical data they have collected so far indicates far more concern then the league would like to acknowledge.

Not only is there an increased rate of Alzheimer’s disease for football players, there are also increased rates of dementia, depression and other related head injuries. The medical evidence is beginning to demonstrate a link between cognitive impairment and playing football. From a non-medical point of view, it makes sense to me that if you spend your work life hitting your head against other people most of the year for 5-10 years, you are likely to injure your head.

Just the other day a congressional hearing was held by John Conyers Jr. on the issue of brain injuries in the NFL. Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, testified at the hearing but did not indicate whether he sees a link between football and head injuries. He did say he and the league believe the health of their players is very important and that they are looking into the issue.

I agree that Mr. Goodell is concerned with the health of his players, but I am concerned he has a strong financial incentive to say there is no problem or to downplay the significance of a problem. According to reports, the NFL had revenue totaling nearly 7 billion dollars, that’s a lot of incentive to keep the system as it currently stands. Of that, players receive 57.5% of the revenue, or approximately $3.85 billion. That’s not a bad sum of money for the players to be sure.

The real question for me at the end of the day is this: Do I think playing football causes brain injury, and if so, what can be done about it? I see lots of data to support such a finding, but it’s not clear what can be done. However, not much will be accomplished to prevent or diminish such injuries if the NFL continues to deny a link between playing football and head injuries. If you can’t admit there’s a problem, it’s very difficult to work on solutions. Hopefully this new research will pressure the NFL into taking steps to address this growing concern.