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NFL and Concussions

by on March 19, 2015
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There seems to be two camps of fear that are pitted against each other when discussing the growing concern over concussions and CTE that occur while playing in the NFL.  Both seem to be based on a fear of some sort, whether rational or irrational.  On one side you have the fear of the NFL losing popularity or being lost as a sport altogether, and the other side is the fear that most athletes playing football will turn people into walking vegetables.  Both of these camps seem to be taking extreme stances here, which is often what is represented in the media at times as those who are most extreme seem to be given the headlines over the more moderate voices out there.

What needs to be done in this debate is to realize what arguments are based on a rational fear and what aren’t.  We can probably say with 100% certainty that the NFL’s popularity is safe from the CTE issue because of it’s rising popularity today, in spite of the criticisms they receive.  We also can’t say with 100% certainty that if you play in the NFL (or even college or high school) that you are going to suffer long term effects from the damage you take on hits to ones head.

In the case of the NFL losing popularity or suffering a negative image to tarnish the league one has to look no further than it’s t.v. ratings and overall revenue.  In a year in which two high profile running backs were arrested and missed playing in the 2014 season the NFL enjoyed its highest Super Bowl rating, and continues to enjoy increasing revenues from it.  If two high profile players that have beaten their kid and girlfriend can’t turn people away from the sport then can people really rationalize a fear of the NFL losing popularity because of the risks of CTE?

As for the case of people in fear of more football players suffering from CTE the evidence is mounting that the problem is a more rational fear than an irrational one.  For former football players in their 50’s the odds of them having alzheimers and dementia are as high as 23 times higher than the non-football players and for those in their 60’s as high as 35 times higher.  As much as 3 in 10 NFL players will develop neurocognitive problems.

So while some fears can be categorized as irrational because of a lack of evidence that the fear will be realized or the lack of trends that it will one day occur, other fears are realized and show a trend that it may one day occur.  One has to ask themselves which side is arguing through rational fear and which one is arguing through an irrational fear?

As a huge football fan I know the sport will likely not suffer in any statistically significant way from more awareness of CTE and for the NFL to be in full force in trying to prepare better for these injuries, which includes small investments into highschools to make kids aware where socioeconomic conditions may lead them to forego these risks whether they are aware of them or not.  It could be a poster in a lock room or a video shown during the first practices of the season, local governments do this for kids who get speeding tickets to instill a fear of driving too fast (so the precedence is there).  With the NFL poised to pay out millions and perhaps billions in medical bills and donations to research on this issue it would be wise for them to also get ahead of the awareness game as it would only help them in any future liability cases.

It is time to stop pretending that this will negatively effect the NFL in a popularity standpoint, it is still the modern gladiator games and people like me love seeing huge hits and a physical game, but that shouldn’t mean we should root under a veil of cognitive dissonance.  It is ok to be a hypocrite that supports awareness and funding for the high levels of risk that comes with football and still support the violent nature of it and enjoy watching that violence.

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