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High-Profile Injuries Jeopardizing Football’s Future?

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I’m a huge football fan. And, like most fans, I understand that football isn’t just a contact sport, it’s a “collision” sport. Part of what has made the game so popular is the occasional bone-jarring tackle, and the NFL, NCAA, TV stations, and advertisers aren’t exactly downplaying this aspect of the game.

In recent years, the physical toll of high-level football has become a bigger story than the games. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with repetitive concussions and other head injuries, has been diagnosed in several deceased football players who died before their time. Perhaps the most compelling case is the suicide of Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bear, who shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain for post-mortem study. And before an autopsy seemingly ruled out brain damage as a contributing factor, many assumed that Junior Seau’s suicide at age 43 was related to CTE.

The NFL’s handling of players with concussions is the subject of a class-action lawsuit. Current and former players allege that the league marginalized the long-term risks of repetitive head trauma. The NFL claims that player safety has always been a top priority.

Over the last two or three seasons, the NFL has introduced several new rules aimed at protecting players and reducing the risk of head injury. This has also become a point of emphasis for game officials. The league is also promoting its “Heads Up Football” initiative, aimed at training young players safe tackling techniques.

Still, injuries cannot be fully prevented. Two weeks ago, Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked out cold and hospitalized following a brutal hit. There was no penalty called on the play. That same day, in a less-publicized incident, Nate Irving of the Denver Broncos was knocked out making a tackle. Last Thursday, two University of Hawai’i football players were carted off the field with neck injuries in the first quarter of a game against BYU.

Can the game of football survive in light of these high-profile injuries? With the amount of money at stake, one would think the NFL and NCAA will eventually be able to strike a balance between profit and player safety. Then again, when it comes to serious long-term disability, is any compromise acceptable?