The Hot Issue of Concussions Within the NFL

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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Concussions within the NFL have been a hot topic of debate in recent years. Lawsuits have been flooding the mailboxes of NFL owners and helmet companies, like Riddell, for allegedly neglecting the care of their former players and their helmet design. These concussions have resulted in deteriorated mental and physical health in many retired athletes. Numerous players, including Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, have been diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by trauma to the head. CTE has been associated with depression, memory loss, insomnia, irrational behavior, Alzheimer’s disease, and suicidal thoughts.

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The NFL needs to start taking care of their former athletes by covering their medical bills, or they risk losing the top-tier talent that makes the game so successful.

The NFL claims to have had no knowledge of the serious health effects of concussions. However, following the latest negotiated agreement between the Players’ Union and the NFL, they won’t have to disclose what knowledge they did have about the link between brain injuries and concussions. Instead, they agreed to pay over $765 million to the more than 18,000 former NFL players who were suing the league for hiding potential side effects of frequent head injuries. The league asserts that they’ve done all they can by introducing rules such as, “prohibit[ing] a player from launching himself off the ground and using his helmet to strike a player in a defenseless posture in the head or neck” (Associated Press, New NFL Rules). They need to go further than just amending a rule; they should secure an insurance policy for any players who’ve endured multiple concussions to support them once their careers are over.

It wasn’t until around 2002 that concussions in the NFL came to national attention. This happened when NFL Hall of Famer Mike Webster committed suicide, and an autopsy revealed that he had CTE. This illness, which results from multiple concussions, garnered more attention when another Hall of Famer, Andre Waters, took his own life in 2006. Waters’ autopsy revealed that he also had CTE; his brain at age 44 resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. The Seau family was the latest victim in the escalating crisis of concussions in the NFL.

Junior Seau, a former esteemed NFL linebacker, shot himself at the age of 43. The public was never informed whether Seau had CTE, as the NFL denied the Pittsburgh doctor who performed Mike Webster’s autopsy the opportunity to conduct one on Junior Seau’s body. In response, the Seau family is suing the NFL for wrongful death, accusing Riddell of negligence in their design, testing, assembly, manufacture, marketing, and engineering of the helmets (Associated Press, Junior Seau’s Family Sues NFL). The NFL needs to take more dramatic measures to address the rapid suicide rates and deaths among former NFL greats. A study tracking 3,439 retired players with five or more seasons in the NFL found these athletes to be four times as likely as other men their age to die of Alzheimer’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (Healy). This statistic alone illustrates the NFL’s failure in ensuring player safety. It’s unfortunate that the vast amounts of money circulating in the league do not benefit those who are retired and suffering from life-altering repercussions such as CTE.

One Hall of Famer currently living with CTE is Tony Dorsett, a once renowned running back for the Dallas Cowboys. During an interview, he became very emotional while describing how he would forget his destinations while driving his young daughters to soccer and volleyball practices. Dorsett expressed the pain for his family: “It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me”(Weinbaum and Delsohn). After witnessing this interview, one cannot help but feel sympathetic for these individuals suffering from this brutally harsh disease about which they can do little. The least the NFL can do is offer support and help cover the hefty costs associated with treating and monitoring this deadly disease.

This case is very serious and can be extremely sensitive to those who have lost a loved one due to CTE. This disease can be prevented either by improved equipment or enhanced post career treatment that NFL players receive from the league. There is no reason why the NFL should not care for these suffering players who have contributed significantly to the league’s millions in revenue. Currently, there are several areas that the NFL needs to address regarding post-career treatment. However, the least they can do is help manage a disease that is claiming the lives of many greats of the game and will continue to do so if they do not extend more assistance to these former athletes.

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The Hot Issue of Concussions within the NFL. (2022, Nov 19). Retrieved from