Fallacy and Advocacy in Sports Injuries: Destabilizing the Dishonest Opposition

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Go ahead and type football hit into Google Images and tell me what you see. Most if not all are jarring huge hits with helmets flying off. When you think of football like most people you probably recall your favorite teams, players, games, etc. But what about the ever looming hidden issue that plagues the sport? For years, the NFL and its commissioner Roger Goodell has stood by their statement that there is no direct evidence that links football to traumatic brain injury (TBI) or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Up until the most recent scientific data the NFL has been able to tiptoe around the subject without any accountability.

Ohio State running back Jalin Marshall (17) is hit by Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland (19) as Alabama defensive back Landon Collins (26) looks on in the second half of the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal game in New Orleans Picture: AP Photo/Bill Haber

Previously noted evidence was deemed circumstantial; however, recent studies by scientists have found a definitive link between football and head trauma. Times reporter Alice Park reports, “Dr. Frank Conidi, director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology, report that more than 40% of retired NFL players show evidence of abnormal brain structures. And on a series of cognitive tests the players took, half showed serious problems with executive functions such as reasoning, problem solving, planning and attention, while 45% had difficulty with learning and memory.” Dr. Conidi only analyzed the brains of 40 retired NFL players where he concluded that the more time an athlete spends in the NFL the more likely he was to have symptoms of TBI. This is a personal topic for me, for I too have suffered a pretty significant TBI and its residual effects take a toll on my everyday life similar to many in this study.

What happens during a hit to the head

According to the Brain Injury Research Institute CTE is, “The condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was formerly believed to exist primarily among boxers, and was referred to as dementia pugilistica. It is a progressive degenerative disease which afflicts the brain of people who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries, such as athletes who take part in contact sports, members of the military and others.” Unfortunately, the only way to diagnose CTE at this time is through post-mortem; however, a recent UCLA study is assisting in identifying concentrations of tau protein which is part of the diagnosis of CTE.

PET scan of a brain with suspected CTE. More red and yellow indicates more abnormal brain proteins. -David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Furthermore BIRI defines TBI as, “The condition known as mild traumatic brain injury is more commonly referred to by the term concussion. While a severe concussion will normally be referred to as a traumatic brain injury or TBI, normal concussions are referred to as being mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) due to the fact that a single injury of this type will not typically cause any serious long term health consequences. Several repeated mild traumatic brain injuries, however, may lead to the life-changing and potentially debilitating condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).” Recent evidence suggests that concussions are caused by rotational motion, rather than forward and backward motion.

The growing concern of injuries in sports have deterred some parents from enrolling their children in high-contact sports such as football. In my modest survey (as of 04/04/2017) about the growing concern over injuries in sports I’ve been able to gauge that 63.2% are unsure if they’d let their child play a contact sport such as football; whereas, 31.6% said yes. So, even with the potential for an injury most people feel like they’d feel ok letting their child play. Overwhelmingly 89.5% felt that the growing concern in abnormal brain structures in retired players was a great concern. Especially with more scientific information coming out it makes sense that this is something that is of concern. Finally, about half of the people surveyed felt that new safety procedures being implemented are doing their job of preventing serious injuries to athletes.

According to Paula Lavigne a ESPN Staff Writer in a larger survey than the one I conducted, “About 57 percent of parents in an online public opinion survey of more than 1,000 people conducted by ESPN Research and the Global Strategy Group in early August said that recent stories about the increase in concussions in football have made them less likely to allow their sons to play in youth leagues.” So my results are pretty conclusive with a larger survey about parents endorsing their children to play contact sports. Personally as a parent of a young boy I’m not sure how I would proceed if my child wanted to play a sport like football. Of course the concern for injury is there especially since I have a TBI that hinders me, but I couldn’t imagine telling my child that they couldn’t do something.

Alabama vs. Auburn Iron Bowl football game, Saturday, November 29, 2014, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Vasha Hunt

A new study has found that professional football players sustain a blow to the head that’s the equivalent of a car crash in every game. More than 100 concussions are reported every year in the NFL, and as athletes are getting bigger and faster the consequences of tackles and hits are bound to increase. Popular Mechanics described a study done by Timothy Gay, a physics professor at the University of Nebraska and author of The Physics of Football, “At 5 ft. 11 in. and 199 pounds, Marcus Trufant is an average-size NFL defensive back (DB). Those stats don’t stand out in a league where more than 500 players weighed 300-plus pounds at the 2006 training camps. But a DB’s mass combined with his speed — on average, 4.56 seconds for the 40-yard dash — can produce up to 1600 pounds of tackling force.”

Student-athlete health and safety has become an increasingly growing concern for Universities, and to be sure that they aren’t soldiering through potentially life-long injuries instead of healing properly. Like many other sports there is a push for safety and better equipment.

New technology is being developed in order to reduce concussions and protect players from hits that result in ferocious twisting motions. “Current helmets were never intended to deal with concussion,” explained Browd, chief medical officer of VICIS. “To take a product that is built for one purpose and to try to retrofit it to address concussion is a very challenging task.” The VICIS Zero1 helmet comes with a price tag of $1,500 each and are being tested by a few Universities such as The Oregon Ducks and The Washington Huskies. Unlike traditional helmets, the Zero1 has a soft outer shell that deforms on impact and a column-like inner structure intended to absorb impact and disperse its force omnidirectionally. There is also an additional rigid layer inside the helmet. As explained on the VICIS website, the helmet is much more similar to a car bumper than your typical helmet, deviating from the familiar hard outer shell and padding combination.

Safety is everything and with the increasing data on TBI and football many professionals are advocating limiting contact as much as possible. Conidi states, “We may need to put things on hold until we figure this out completely. It’s better safe and have to limit contact or play sports that don’t have high-impact contact on a regular basis. If we took away such contact from practice, it would make a huge difference.” This is highly unlikely as it deters from the core principles of the sport and like other fans of the sport we enjoy the almost gladiator like fights on the field, but we need to advance safety in order to protect our players and children.

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