Full disclosure – I’m not a big fan of football. Never have been. But I know lots of people love the sport. Really, LOVE it. Can’t get enough of it. Can’t wait for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and now Thursday for their fix of football. Now though, there are headlines about former players losing their mental abilities to depression, early dementia, and even more occurrences of ALS and Parkinson’s Disease. How can a game that so many love, be so deadly? Has it always been this way, or is this a new development?
Turns out, when football was first being played in the late 1800s there was controversy surrounding the brutality of the sport. Many, many players died. It wasn’t unusual for a season to have 20 deaths. These were among college football players. Some began to believe that the sport needed to have massive changes if it was to continue, because the idea that young men could lose their lives playing a game became too much. In fact, even President Teddy Roosevelt, in 1905 became involved. He didn’t want the sport to go away and he wanted the coaches of the big college teams, Harvard and Yale to figure out a way to make it a little bit safer.
So things changed a bit. However, what didn’t change was the impact to players’ heads. Most people look at the helmet and think, “Well, they have protection.” However, the helmet does nothing to protect the brain inside the player’s skull. We now have the technology to measure “hits” that players’ brains are absorbing. Many hits are recorded at 100g, which is the equivalent of running into a brick wall at 20 mph. So you think only professionals are hitting this hard? No, these hits have been recorded being taken by 7 and 8 year olds.
What is the impact of all these hits? Well, concussions are one, but in the book Fourth Down and Inches by Carla Killough McClafferty, it turns out that repeated hits, which don’t lead to concussions, can still impact how a person processes information. In other words, their brains are being damaged by those repeated hits, even if they don’t get a concussion.
Now we see how older players, and by older, I mean early 40s, who are having terrible mental problems. Why? Something has been identified in the brains of athletes who have died, called CTE. It is progressive brain damage and what is shocking is younger players have been shone to have it, after they have died. One as young as 15 years old.
So the question becomes, is it still worth it?
Fascinating book, for anyone who has ever played the game of football, is still playing and anyone who loves the game itself. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.