Amid the unrelenting furor surrounding the NFL and domestic violence the past month, a critically important story concerning football, and all collision sports slipped by virtually unnoticed. A projection was made from NFL documents in the concussion lawsuit as to what the future holds for current players. The prediction stated that three out of ten former players would have brain damage as a consequence of playing in the NFL. This news was greeted with a great collective yawn. Which is collective denial.
The projection of three out of ten players suffering brain damage from concussion is arguably way too low. Some neurologists theorize that every time an offensive lineman hits a defensive lineman at the inception of every play it produces a low level sub-concussive event. It is then possible that a lineman who plays high school, college, and professional football could suffer 10,000 sub-concussive hits. He would be aware of none of these, none of them would be diagnosed, because none would produce a knockout. The aggregate of the cumulative damage would almost certainly produce the symptoms of ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson's, dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy and depression that follow multiple concussions.
I love football. I have made a great living from representing professional football players. I do not want to see it go away. But if 50 percent of the mothers in this country become aware of these dangers and tell their teenage sons that they can play any sport–but not tackle football, what will happen? It will change the socioeconomics of football. The young men who will play it are the same men who box, knowing the risk, but need to take it to escape economic poverty.
It is not just football. Young girls need to be aware of the risks inherent in collisions and heading the ball in AYSO soccer. Concussions occur in all collision sports. The younger brain is at risk for longer recovery and heightened danger. Weren't the demises of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau dramatic enough to make solving this a national priority?
1) We need discussion about what sports are appropriate for very young children to play.
2) Safe blocking and tackling techniques for football need to be taught from the beginning.
3) Contact needs to be limited in high school football. Practice Like the Pros is a good program.
4) Helmetry needs the best in engineering to truly protect. Tate Technology has a promising coil-compression system that dissipates the energy force and reduces it dramatically.
5) Better diagnostic techniques on sidelines so sub-concussive sufferers are not returned to play.
6) Nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals that ...
a. Make the brain less susceptible to being concussed.
b. Reduce swelling at time of hit -- Prevacus has promising nasal spray that does just that.
c. Heal the brain. Stem cell is still a few years off.
We are talking about an injury of a totally different dimension from other sports injuries. The brain determines personality, memory, judgment -- what it means to be a sentient human being. We treasure and venerate valiant athletes. It is time to make caring for their health and welfare after the cheering stops a top priority.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.