In August, the National Football League (NFL) settled a class action lawsuit with some 4500 players over injuries allegedly suffered during years on the football field. While the $765 million settlement is a positive step, it is cold comfort to athletes and families whose lives and potential were cut short by injuries that might have been avoided. The settlement begins a long conversation about the realities of sports that just about require head injury to play.
By settling the class action case, the NFL admitted no guilt and provided no evidence that revealed when it first knew the danger of repeated trauma to the head and brain. Since then, studies by institutions like the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy found evidence of the degenerative brain disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of deceased athletes, including:
- Derek Boogaard
- Dave Duerson
- John Mackey
- Cookie Gilchrist
Other conditions experienced by still-living football players include Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The settlement proposes to compensate players on a sliding scale for their injuries, likely bankrupting settlement monies before all injured players receive full compensation.
In other studies, football players as young as seven are experiencing head hits at a magnitude sufficient to cause concussive or sub-concussive damage. Loss of consciousness may indicate damage has occurred after a significant hit on the football field or in an automobile accident.
Bigger, better helmets cannot save a human brain after repeated hits, nor can settlement money. Preventing head injury is easier and more compassionate than dealing with the consequences at the end of a career, or a life.