Football Addresses Head Trauma

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With a new professional football season on the horizon, there will be a lot of changes to the rules in an effort to reduce head trauma. The most significant change is the new use of “helmet rule,” which will be effect. The rule states that it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. This rule pertains to all players on the field and to all areas of the field.

Among other changes:

  • An impact seizure will be treated as a loss of consciousness and force removal of a player from the game.
  • A player who stumbles or falls to the ground trying to stand, unrelated to an orthopedic injury, will be sent directly to the locker room for examination. If a player passes the exam, he could be allowed to return to the game.
  • Injured players are to be taken directly to a medical team member for a concussion assessment.
  • All players who undergo any concussion evaluation in games will have a follow-up evaluation conducted the next day by a member of the medical staff.

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Inaccurate Statistics on Football Safety for Kids

With all the controversy surrounding the link between traumatic brain injury and professional football, the National Football League (NFL) has been adopting certain initiatives over the last couple of years in an attempt to reassure the country that their national pastime is becoming safer for kids and athletes. Together with USA Football—youth football’s governing body—the league endorsed a new educational program called “Heads Up Football” back in 2015. The program involves a series of in-person and online courses for coaches to learn new safety procedures and proper tackling drills to reduce the risk of head injury. The NFL and USA Football said that the program reduced the number of concussions by an estimated 30 percent and injuries by 76 percent.

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The Blitz is On

Earlier this month, the senior vice president of the National Football League’s health and safety policy spoke at a hearing in Washington, D.C., where he was asked if there is a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Jeff Miller replied, “The answer to that is certainly, yes,” moving the ball down the field in a longtime debate among independent researchers, former athletes, and the NFL.

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Ann McKee, M.D.

Alongside Miller stood Dana Alliance member Ann McKee, M.D., whose latest study was just referenced in a story on CTE in the New York Times on Sunday, March 27. At the hearing, McKee presented findings from her ongoing research on the relationships between traumatic brain injury, neurodegenerative disease, and contact sports. As director of the Brain Bank for Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, she has been making headlines over the past several years for revealing that “deceased athletes, including at least 90 former NFL players, were found to have had [CTE].”

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Concussion Movie Reignites Important Issue

football CTEIt is fairly remarkable that Concussion, the movie, exists. Ten years ago, the public did not know much about concussions and other forms of brain trauma. People weren’t watching football games and thinking about the long-term neurological effects of the brutal hits. Around 2009, the National Football League (NFL) started catching heat for its outdated concussion policies. In 2013, a book and corresponding documentary that tackled the issue, League of Denial, were released. And now, at the end of 2015, Hollywood has brought us a major motion picture that stars Will Smith as a neuropathologist fighting to reveal the truth about head trauma in football players.

The film’s mere existence will hopefully mean even more public discussion of an important issue. It is based on a wonderfully researched 2009 GQ feature, which later became a book, by Jeanne Marie Laskas. She profiles Bennet Omalu, who was working as a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh in 2002, when he performed the autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Mike Webster. Omalu’s initial evaluation of Webster’s brain showed no abnormalities. Continue reading

Is Professional Football Safe?

“New Data Shows 96% of NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease” declares the headline of a recent and alarming article from TIME magazine. Surely, if this is the case, why would anyone want to pursue a career in the sport? Well, it turns out, it may not be the case, said Alvaro Pascual-Leone of Harvard University in last night’s International Neuroethics Society event about safety in professional football.

“Much of the information we have today is based on woefully underpowered studies,” he explained. “If you want to make sound inferences of risk you need about 70 percent of the reachable public,“ which in this case would be 10,000 former NFL players (of the approximately 15,000 alive today). To put things into perspective, the study mentioned above only studied the brains of 91 former players.

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