Playing contact sports carries the risk of long-term brain damage. It only takes a minor concussion to affect the brain.
Reading the sports section of the paper is depressingly dismal, as lately it contains stories about well-known and respected athletes who are suffering from traumatic brain injury or have taken their own lives as a result of those injuries. It is dismal for a number of reasons: to know that these athletes played and were allowed to keep playing, despite their concussions, that traumatic brain injury was apparently common knowledge, even years ago, but nothing was done about it, and that these individuals are suffering, or committed suicide, as the result of the negligence of others.
Consider the case of Tom McHale, who played in the National Football League (NFL) from 1987 to 1995. He died of an overdose in 2008. Addicted to painkillers, he also struggled with severe depression. His autopsy showed traumatic brain injury. His wife decided to share the news of his autopsy with others in order to help them understand that those with brain injuries are experiencing neurological issues that are not their fault. This a major reason thousands of former football players, 4,200, or close to a third of the 12,000 players in the league, are suing the NFL.
The NFL thinks the cases should be within the purview of an arbitrator. Legal counsel thinks the cases need to be heard in federal court. Most of the cases argue that the NFL made a huge profit from the violence of the sport and chose to ignore the damage to players sustaining numerous hits to the head. Other evidence suggests the league deliberately hid what they knew about the science of neurological problems being linked to concussions.
One wonders what the league was hoping to accomplish when they set up a group of people to take a look at the correlation between these two issues. Their committee, launched in 1994 and called the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee, was led by a rheumatologist. Two things stand out about the committee, and the first was calling it “mild” traumatic brain injury, as if that somehow diminished its impact or consequences. It does not. The issue is that frequent hits to the head add up over time causing dementia and other problems. The second point is that the committee was led by a doctor with no particular experience with head injuries.
The bottom line is that whatever the judge hearing the arguments decides, the case(s) will be worth billions to both sides. There is a lot at stake. Former players that are still alive and fighting depression, Alzheimer’s and dementia, suggest the league was negligent is hustling them back into play after they suffered concussions. The few that do not currently have issues, want their health closely monitored. The defining issue in the argument as to where the cases should be heard is whether or not the player’s contracts clearly spell out that head trauma/injuries are workplace safety issues.
All in all, this is an issue that will not go away anytime soon. If you have young children who want to play contact sports, you might wish to rethink that. As it stands, no one knows the true risks and consequences our children take when playing them.