Responding to Frontline’s “League of Denial”

American footballRecently, PBS Frontline aired a special, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.” This two-hour special tells the story of “Iron Mike” Webster, former Pittsburgh Steeler, as well as the beginning of the research that shows degenerative brain disease develops following repeated concussive incidences. This documentary interviews many doctors, including BIA-MA Board Member, Dr. Robert Cantu, of Boston University and the Sports Legacy Institute. The evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is “evident” through this documentary. It is very telling regarding the National Football League’s continual denial that multiple concussions cause long term brain damage.

The ironic piece is that many Americans revere pro-athletes that hurl themselves at each other for sport, for a ball, for a win…for a paycheck. Though, we raise up these athletes from as early as park and recreation departments let them –age 9? This repeated concussive behavior doesn’t just appear in football, though football has taken a front seat in the debate. It’s football players who have filed a huge lawsuit against their former employer, the National Football League. Football players are more notably donating their brains to science following their deaths. Junior Seau, former New England Patriot, committed suicide following his troubles that he believed were caused by his repeated concussions.

It’s not just football, though. It is boxing, soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, cheerleading, wrestling, and many other activities. It is veterans returning from war, being in blast zones day in and day out. The brain is racked when the head is shaken. It is seen in car accidents, and bike accidents. There are many ways that the human body can experience concussion.

It is apparent in the brain injury community that this is and has been a growing issue. Brain injury will reach epidemic proportions by the year 2020. It far exceeds the incidence of even HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. This is not to lessen those ailments, but to show the growing condition that many individuals face. When journalists make light of issues that we in the brain injury community have known about for a long time, awareness is finally raised about the cause we fight for. It’s only taken so many years…

Whether the NFL agrees that repeated concussions and hits can cause CTE or degenerative brain disease is irrelevant, since continuing research at The Sports Legacy Institute with the brains of many deceased athletes and veterans is yielding this result. The inside of the skull is jagged and sharp. If you bump your arm on something hard and sharp, you bruise. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you bump an organ…the brain…on the inside of the skull that it would bruise as well? The fluid surrounding the brain is a cushion, but the principle of inertia is at play. An object at rest stays at rest until acted upon by another object or force. An object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by another object or force. When the head rams into something, the brain continues moving inside until it is halted by the skull. So many of this experience is taking its toll on professional athletes.

The recorded incidence of concussion is increasing, because student athletes, coaches and parents are getting the idea that this could have severe long term affects. It’s not just about “getting your bell rung” anymore. It’s about the fact that post-concussive syndrome is rough, and after incurring one brain injury, you are more likely to suffer subsequent brain injuries. Higher risk! You are at a higher risk following an initial brain injury. Take care of yourself.

While this American pastime will continue to bring people together and motivate young athletes with role models, let’s hope the “league of denial” becomes a league of acceptance and makes athletes sit out if they experience a concussion, or that the safety equipment continues to evolve in hopes that protection and prevention will be the main goal. We welcome your thoughts on the documentary “League of Denial” and hope that you share them with us here or on facebook or twitter.

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