The National Football League released an injury report Friday (29), which quoted the number of concussions diagnosed in 2015 as having increased by 32 percent from the previous year. Frontline’s “Concussion Watch” by PBS said that 199 concussions have been listed on NFL injury reports in the 2015 season. Most concussions result from helmet to helmet collisions.
According to the NFL, “concussions are being increasingly self-reported by players, according to the Globe, and the league’s sideline concussion protocol is being utilized more readily by team doctors.”
Neurocognitive research now links many concussions (brain injuries) sustained during football play to the degenerative brain disease commonly known as “CTE” (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which results from repetitive brain trauma.
The NFL reported that 271 concussions were diagnosed last year; 206 in 2014; 229 in 2013; and 261 in 2012. A 21 percent increase in diagnosed concussions was reported between the start of the 2009 season and the first half of the 2010 season. Post-mortem brain autopsies are increasingly pointing to cases of CTE, which was not yet identifiable in the active, living tissues of the brain – until possibly now (video).
The latest injury report comes on the heels of an announcement Tuesday (26) in which doctors confirmed that Iowa’s own treasure and former University of Iowa Hawkeye All-Big Ten safety and two-year NFL Giants player, Tyler Sash, suffered from severe, Level 2 CTE.
Sash had suffered at least five separate, documented concussions. His life ended tragically last September at age 27 by accidental pain med overdose. Sash’s family donated his brain for CTE testing.
Chicago Tribune’s John Kass likened CTE to “a boy’s brain inside a helmet — floating like a poached pear in a jar of water — shaken and slammed against the glass again and again and again…”
Kass also writes: “…you can’t sell trucks or beer to dad if he’s got his son’s scrambled brains on his mind. You can’t sell mom on buying more gear for the multigenerational NFL family — you know, that NFL Hallmark card with grandpa in his Bears jersey, and the evil son-in-law wearing Packers’ green and gold — if she is thinking about taking her boy to the hospital for concussion therapy.”
In response to growing internal conflict of love for the game and loved ones, some NFL players and concerned families are boycotting what had become America’s favorite Sunday night party.
The NFL has begun combatting the concussions trends. Interventions include “penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits and fining egregious instances of targeting, assigning impartial spotters to remove concussed players from play, and increasing education and awareness about head trauma.
In good news, the tough-it-out culture of football that for decades euphemistically coated injuries with a rump slap and a, “Walk it off,” seems to be changing (at least in the mental health sector) in favor of honest assessment about how a player is feeling right now.
Said Richard Ellenbogen, Co-Chairman of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee and Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington, “… the culture has changed. I see coaches report players and pull them out of the game. I see players report themselves. I see players report each other. That’s certainly new and different.”
There was a time (through most of football history until 2009 when conditions such as concussions began surfacing as public knowledge) when it was considered a sign of weakness to have a complaint on the field. Players were conditioned to “play through” pain, even though playing through might not have been explicitly requested.
Former Iowa State University linebacker, Clint Thomas told KIMT Friday (29), that he definitely “… suffered a concussion or two, but players weren’t treated for head injuries then… When I played, honestly you got your bell rung and many times there were probably guys that were playing through concussions that weren’t even aware that they had concussions.”
There are no formally reported cases of CTE prior to 1900. You might ask, “What about football is activating CTE in brains today that was not triggering the disease in prior generations?”
Actually, scientists since the 1920s have known about the CTE pattern of abnormal brain cells – when it was discovered in boxers. However, doctors still do not agree today on what a concussion actually is and what indisputably causes it.
The bold research of world renowned forensic pathologist, Doctor Bennet Omalu linked football, CTE, and the concussion epidemic. They are related; but causality is still yet to be directly proven.
Dr. Omalu, about whom the movie “Concussion” was developed (starring Will Smith), now believes that the eleven-year NFL career of O.J. Simpson also resulted in his suffering from the CTE brain disease. If causality can be confirmed in this instance, it would be one of the earliest documented cases and could have a huge impact on related research and pathology definition.
We know that prevention begins early. For concerned parents, the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IAHSAA) hosts a number of concussion related links on their Sport Medicine web page. Iowa passed landmark concussion safety legislation in 2011.