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On December 25, a new film--Concussion--opened in theaters across the country, telling the story of one doctor’s research into traumatic brain injuries suffered by football players, and his crusade to educate the nation about the dangers of its most popular sport and challenge the National Football League (NFL) to protect its athletes.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, portrayed by Will Smith in the film, found that concussions may result in long-term changes in the brain, and that repeated concussions, which are experienced by some athletes, can result in more severe long-term consequences, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). His findings have been supported by subsequent research. CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, loss of impulse control and dementia. These problems can surface years after the concussions occur.
In an interview with National Public Radio on December 27, Dr. Omalu spoke about what motivated his work: "I had met the families of the sufferers of this disease. They were suffering in silence, they were suffering in obscurity. And it offended my sense of America.”
“The way we play the game today, football is far too dangerous,” Prevention Institute’s executive director, Larry Cohen, said. “Ten years after Dr. Omalu first published his findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, America’s highest-grossing sport continues to injure and kill too many players.”
Players of all ages face risks of injuries to the brain and body. According to a recent study, boys who participate in high school football are more susceptible to developing CTE. Every year, more than 25,000 young football players between the ages of eight and 19 land in the ER with head injuries, and players as young as seven suffer blows to the head comparable to injuries sustained by fully grown football players. Eleven high school football players have died so far this year. Untold numbers of players--from children to unpaid student athletes to pros--have suffered hidden damage that will unfold over their lifetimes.
"While we need more research and more information, we can't let our kids be the guinea pigs while we figure it out," Cohen told The Nation's Health, a publication of the American Public Health Association.
We need to drop the old refrain that “injuries are accidents” when football-related head injuries are both predictable and preventable.
“We’ve taken on safety issues in the past--from tobacco and substance abuse to speed limits, seatbelts and lead exposures. Now it’s time to apply that same logic to challenges facing football. When life-threatening and life-altering injuries are built into the way the game is played, it’s time to change the rules of the game,” Cohen said.
Prevention Institute is an Oakland, California-based nonprofit research, policy, and action center that works nationally to promote prevention, health, and equity by fostering community and policy change so that all people live in healthy, safe environments.