Welcome to the NFL. Your job pays well. You, like your average coworkers, receive $6.93 million — an average yearly salary of for the average NFL career length of — but, unfortunately, this job comes with a cost. You develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative disorder that depression, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and progressive dementia.
Concussions, which the likelihood of CTE developing, occurred at your places of employment in 2017, 15.6 percent more often than the previous year. A recent study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry concluded that a single mild traumatic brain injury — such as a concussion — increases your risk of dementia by 17 percent. Suffer five or more and your risk has tripled.
But wait, there’s another silver lining. As another perk of this job, you’ll be seen by of the United States population on Monday nights as they drink themselves into a beery stupor. There you are on the screen, playing American football, the world’s greatest sport.
With these statistics in mind, should we, as a nation of what will hopefully one day be ethical consumers, funnel billions of dollars a year into a modern-day gladiatorial arena that is slowly killing our questionably-deified quarterbacks and linebackers one hard tackle at a time?
I think not.
These injuries and illnesses aren’t limited to NFL players. Concussions occur a year in the U.S. from recreational or athletic causes, with female athletes often experiencing rates of concussion than their male counterparts. The same CTE-detecting autopsy study also diagnosed the disease in 91 percent of deceased college football players.
For us as a nation to continue participating in or supporting contact sports, further research must be done to develop ways of preventing, diagnosing and mitigating the effects of concussion.
Current research has allowed athletes to better understand the risks incurred during play, but no research has provided methods with which to actually fight against the traumatic brain injury epidemic. We have no weapon with which to combat these injuries and illnesses, but the NFL keeps sending their players into battle.
To the NFL’s credit, the trade association has taken many steps toward preventing concussions and other more severe traumatic brain injuries, steps such as banning helmet-to-helmet hits and putting a five-step protocol into effect that reduces the likelihood that players with concussions will reenter the game.
The NFL has also to fund research on concussions and brain injuries. Part of this fund also aids the Concussion Assessment Research and Education Consortium Grand Alliance, a partnership between the Department of Defense and NCAA that monitors athletes and military service cadets at 30 universities for concussions. IU School of Medicine and IU-Bloomington in the CARE Consortium.
While the NFL’s attempts to further understand and prevent concussions and associated neurodegenerative diseases are admirable, it continues to use their players as guinea pigs by allowing them to participate in a sport that still produces thousands of concussions each year. Until research has identified effective ways of preventing or treating concussions, the NFL should impose even further limitations on tackles and the on-field time of players who have ever suffered from a concussion, and it should impose even harsher fines for head-to-head contact.
The 2018 NFL draft begins in two weeks. I hope these players know all of what they’re signing up to experience.
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