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November 7, 2013

Nature of sport includes risk

By Brendan Samsa

Every Sunday millions of people watch their favorite NFL players literally unload vicious hit after vicious hit on each other for a full 60 minutes. But do we ever actually take a second to think about what each of those highlight reel hits does to the recipient?

That was exactly the topic Frontline wanted to shed light on when they released their investigative documentary “League of Denial.”

The documentary aired on Oct. 8 was aimed to shed light on a topic that has long flown under the radar. Clearly calling out the NFL on its concussion procedures and its knowledge of the long term effects that head injuries can have on its players, the documentary opened many eyes to the issue.

Originally the documentary was supposed to be co-produced by Frontline and ESPN. Later reports suggest that allegedly the “four letter network” backed out of the project after receiving pressure from the NFL to do so.

Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, brothers who both work for ESPN, co-authored the book “League of Denial” that the documentary is based on. The brothers accompanied Frontline in the documentary, adding that they were not asked by ESPN to back down from doing so.

Fans of not only the NFL but football in general have had mixed feelings about the documentary.

“I have been watching football my whole life and I live for the ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’, high- flying hits,” said Jordan Manes, a Cleveland State University student. “On the same token I understand that those big hits can cause irreparable damage and as much as I love a good hit those are people out there and it’s dangerous.”

We all know that when you play a gladiator sport such as football, injuries are bound to happen. What many people may not know is how those injuries can affect you long after the cleats have been hung up.

In the documentary they explained that the concussions received by so many of these players were causing them to form CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

CTE is described as a degenerative disease that can only be diagnosed postmortem in individuals who were subject to multiple concussions and brain injuries. The diseases symptoms include dementia, aggression, confusion and depression, which start to show many years after the trauma had taken place.

Mike Webster was a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974-1990. When Webster’s 25-year-career ended, some doctors suggested that the damage done to his head was equivalent to being in “25,000 car crashes.”

After Webster’s death, he was diagnosed with CTE by Bennet Omalu, a forensic neu-ropathologist, and chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California. After examining tissue in Webster and eight other deceased NFL players, Omalu had determined that all of these ex-players were suffering from the disease before their deaths. It is suggested that the findings by Omalu were ignored by the NFL until the untimely death of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry in 2009. Henry was 26 when he passed away but findings would show that he was suffering from CTE upon postmortem examination.

In the documentary many allegations were made that the NFL had known about CTE and the long-term dangers of concussions for quite some time and just hadn’t done anything about them. The NFL professes its innocence in the matter, claiming they had no prior knowledge of these issues until the last few years.

In recent years the league has gone to new lengths to prevent injuries from occurring. Harsher penalties and large fines for hits with dangerous intent are derailing defensive players from literally trying to tear the head off of the opposing players.

As a result, concussion testing has become a more intricate process in not just the NFL, but in college football and high school football as well.

Local high school head football coach of the Mayfield Wildcats Larry Pinto takes all the precautions he can when dealing with his team.

“We have to have a concussion education certificate, and each player and their parents are required to read and understand the signs, symptoms and consequences before playing on my team,” said Pinto. “It’s essential for the players to be more aware of head injuries because down the road it can cause major problems.”

As American football becomes more and more popular around the world, it is essential that education on the topic of head trauma be stressed to anyone who decides to play. Professional football gets the brunt of the criticism for not dealing with the issue as well as they should have, but the truth is that concussions have been mistreated and underplayed at all levels of play.

Many arguments have been made that when you sign up to play football whether it be professionally or not that you also sign up for all the physical ailments that come with it, while also adding that many of these occurrences are extreme cases and are being overplayed.

“Right now we have had more concussions with our soccer team than with our football team, they happen in every sport,” said Pinto. “It’s not a football specific injury.”

Regardless of which side is right or wrong, it is a fact that concussion injuries in all levels of football are becoming more prevalent. In 2010 concussions in the NFL had gone up 21 percent from the previous year, and the 2012 season saw 142 concussions or head related injuries. These numbers are constantly increasing and people are beginning to notice.

Protecting players has become a big part of football in recent years, but the truth is that the nature of the sport will never fully allow for these types of injuries to disappear. Every time a player steps foot onto that field, they’re rolling the dice.