Through several decades the practice of contact sports has grown exponentially, especially the art of American football. The gridiron, tackling based competition fans watch has had its remarkable influence across the United States and has been prevalent worldwide. Though its dark side of the commonality of consequential injuries that can greatly affect a player’s body is evident, it is still beloved as that is the underlying basis of what makes the sport. Its roughness may take a heavy toll on the health of the people who play the game as they can lead to concussions, which if not treated appropriately may lead to deficiencies in the long run. Extensive experimentation to improve football gear to limit the impact of concussions would be the best fit rather than altering the rules of the game as the purity and pace of the game is maintained still as “american football”.
As taking a hit in any football game is a commonality, the probability of sustaining an injury of any degree is high. What comes with being involved with the contact sport is that it is seen as a “manly” physical activity. Hitting opponents full force and to avoid them demonstrates their athletic ability and masculine prowess on the field. Eric Anderson and Edward Kian, Anderson being a sociologist and Kian having a Ph.D. in sports media respectively, state that asserting hegemonic status has always been connected to the sport and to “sacrifice their body for sporting glory” is essential to retain that status. Football’s perspective of the great amounts of strength and muscle, and willingness to participate in a violent environment puts it as the epitome of the “masculine hierarchy” (Anderson). Many perceive the risk of concussions only occurring in combat sports; since football players wear protective headgear they are cushioned from head trauma which is not the case. In the 2010 NFL season, Aaron Rodgers had suffered a “Grade 1 Head Cranial Concussion” and withdrew himself mid-game prioritizing health over masculinity (Anderson). The trend of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a disease caused by repeated head injuries, has spread throughout the league has heightened consciousness of sacrificing toughness over well-being.
The increasing participation of football on multiple levels, not just professional but collegiate as well, translates to the escalating issues regarding health, specifically with CTE. Football “violates four biomedical ethical principles of nonmaleficence, beneficence, respect for autonomy, and justice” (Margolis). Lewis H. Margolis, who has an MPH in epidemiology, discusses how football breaks between benefits and risks through long term harm, absence of agreement between parent and athlete, and ethical issues present in football at the college and high school levels. Schools have attempted to establish methods to decrease the number of injuries such as the “Heads Up Football” coaching program but saw no significant decrease in head-related injuries. Greg Canty, who has an MD in sports medicine, pitched in to say that concussions have been “ignored by far too many by far too long” and the knowledge in how to treat them remains limited (Margolis). All of those who participate in the game should become more involved with the sport to ensure the safety of the players and maintain the masculine dominance on the field.
With players evolving their physical capabilities and the sport becoming tougher to play, protective gear would need to be enhanced in order to compensate for this increased risk of injury. Helmets were designed to reduce the impact of players clashing heads with each other, as well as extra padding to soften each blow. Yet despite this great window of safety, preventative concussion measures simply cannot be reached yet. Regardless of helmet design, they all work similarly by “lengthen[ing] the duration of the impact, reverberat[ing] energy through various structures and materials’ rather than having all the force focused on one area (Wilson). Doctor Timothy Gay, a physics professor at the University of Nebraska, explains the great number of restraints that come with creating concussion-proof helmest but are ultimately possible. Evaluations of previous football helmets such as the Riddell VSR4 and the Riddell Revolution concluded evolution within newer designs with the “53.9% [concussion] reduction between the Revolution and VSR4” which is a step in the right direction but can be pursued more (Rowson).
The biggest issue of concussions is the inability to detect them effectively. On the field, any player is vulnerable to any hit, and through the accumulation of hits, they may receive a concussion but are not fully aware of the fact they do or the severity of their injury. Nothing in the gear allows a team’s medical staff to alert them of them being close to having a concussion. However, neurosurgeons and engineers to Prevent Biometrics have developed a mouthguard that can “detect potential concussion-causing impacts in real-time” (Nelson). The mouthguard is able to “measure the distance, angle, and force of a blow” which would then alert any abnormal impact that has been detected (Nelson). This breakthrough in sports science may open other possibilities to better signal symptoms to prevent any further damage to the brain.
While combat sports athletes suffer through a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) hindering their ability to live leisurely, the costs of TBI-related issues may translate off it. Costs for treatment of any severity of brain damage vary from “$85,000 to $3 million” but there is no extensive way to measure the value as information is limited; info is limited due to estimated costs being in hospitals or emergency departments (Leibson). This makes athletes question if their masculinity is more valuable than the costs of maintaining good health. The process of diagnosing any severity of TBI is expensive and may only get more costly through “rehabilitation, long-term care, and clinical care [post-treatment]” (Graves). Frank Gifford, who was an NFL legend and analyst for the league, had suffered his share of concussions which resulted in CTE due to the build-up of hits taken during his career(Edmonds). Gifford was able to pay off his accommodations of rehab through his success of participating in the sport and earning incentives as well. However, not all families can do the same as they may not be financially stable and stress is built upon their emotions of sadness knowing a loved one is suffering from TBI. Though with the development of new concussion-detecting mouthguards being around $199-$299 and helmets like the VSR4 being about $300, the rates of concussion would decrease and the medical bills of injured athletes would reduce as a result. The focus of TBI treatment must be equally considered for all patients; regardless of socioeconomic status and financial stability.
Alleviating the impact of players trading blows between each other through the current technology currently offered is an enduring challenge. Attempts to solve the overwhelming issue has been difficult considering the costs and effectiveness over long periods of time. Despite the deficiencies, implementing “new” technology into the NFL would be the best approach over rule changes or reevaluating concussion protocol as the foundation of the sport is retained rather than completing shifting the way countless fans currently perceive the American pastime.