The prevalence of head injuries in sports and their devastating lasting effects is well documented. Football players’ head injuries have been a prevalent news topic in the past few months. As the face of football, the National Football League is being blamed for keeping this epidemic buried for so long. Despite claims by former professional football players of the post-career effects of repeat head trauma, the NFL continually discredited research associated with analysis of deceased football players’ brains. It wasn’t until 2009 that any league official publicly acknowledged any long-term effects of concussions.
According to the Center for BrainHealth, long term effects of concussions include memory problems, intense anger and/or aggression, personality changes, lack of concentration, problems organizing and planning, difficulty problem solving, and language impairment. Particularly troubling is the number of former NFL athletes struggling with mental health problems. Just in the past 4 years, there have been 10 recorded suicides among former NFL players.
Along with the depression, dementia is another significant mental health problem for former NFL players. A 2012 study by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) showed that players who spent at least five seasons playing in the NFL were four times more likely than the general population to die with dementia or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon has been an outspoken advocate for retired players suffering from dementia. He says that while he “doesn’t have thoughts of killing himself anymore” he still has the dementia and “doesn’t think they [NFL] were looking out for our best interests” while he played.
Fortunately, President Obama recently hosted a sports summit highlighting the concerns of head injuries in sports. This gathering brought together more than 200 sports officials, medical experts, parent activists and young athletes, with a goal of finding new ways to treat and prevent serious head injuries, particularly in youth sports. In addition, the NCAA and Pentagon have launched a $30 million clinical study of concussion and head impact exposure among college students.