American football is a very popular game especially in the U.S it is played across the country. It is played by two teams of eleven sides. It is a very physical game with constant collisions, tackles and constant aggressive falls. Teams get points by advancing the ball to the opponent team’s end zone by either running or throwing it to a teammate. It is a sport that prides itself on its commitment and toughness under physical duress. The constant collisions and the physical and aggressive nature of the game what promoted researchers, to carry out an in depth survey of any long term or short term brain damage on retired and active National Football league players. The media have been putting emphasize need to look into the plight of NFL players following many NFL players suffering from concussion-related injuries. In recent times, suicides by NFL alumni and frequent giant class-action laws suits have threatened the livelihood of the game. They have put into question, whether the NFL teams actually look Clinical studies were performed by independent scientist in 2005 to determine whether multiple concussion cause problems such as depression and early-onset dementia (Dementia is the loss of brain functions. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment and behavior). Dr. Robert Cantu and Dr. Bennett Omalu examined the brain tissues of three deceased NFL players (Terry Long, Mike Webster and Andre Waters) all had suffered numerous concussions throughout their industrious NFL careers. Before their premature death, all three of them had shown symptoms of depression, sharply deteriorated cognitive function, pain attacks and psychiatric symptoms such as paranoia. After the examination, the brain tissue of the three revealed neurotrophil threads, cell drop out and neurofibrillary tangles. Both doctors concluded that, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) was triggered by multiple NFL concussion and may have played a major role in the cause of their deaths. CTE, a neurological disorder, that was first discovered in boxing athletes who sustained multiple blows on the head. At its first stage, CTE symptoms may include poor concentration, poor memory, dizziness and headaches. It later progresses to Parkinsonism or dementia this causes symptoms such as slowing in muscle movement, tremor of the hands and hesitancy in speech. The NFL still failed to acknowledge that there was a link between concussions and cognitive decline.
Events over the years would however change this. On17th December 2009, Chris Henry aged 26 a Cincinnati Bengals receiver died after falling (jumping) out of the back of a pickup truck. A postmortem study performed on Henry brain tissue by Dr. Omalu and Dr. Julian Bailes showed trademark signs of CTE on the deceased brain tissues. Henry was the twenty second NFL professional player to be diagnosed with CTE. It was not the only isolated case, In February 2011, Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bears defenseman fatally shot himself on the chest. This was preceded by deteriorating cognitive symptoms, which he believed were linked to CTE. In May 2011, it was confirmed that Duerson had remarkable evidence of CTE in his brain tissue. There was no evidence of any other mental disorder. In April 2012, Ray Easterling a former Atlanta Falcon also committed suicide. He died of gunshot wounds after he shot himself several times. Previously, Easterling had experienced a variety of CTE symptoms, hand tremors, memory loss and the eventual dementia. Barely three weeks after Easterling death, a 20 year NFL veteran named Junior Seau committed suicide by shooting himself on the chest. Before his death, Seau had struggled with depression and other problems.
In 2009, a study sponsored by the NFL, showed that players between the age of 30-49 who had retired received a dementia related medical diagnosis at the rate of 1.9% this is 20 times the rate of people of the same age bracket who did not play professional football. Moreover, 6.1% of players beyond 50 years were diagnosed with dementia related health problem. This represented five times the national average.
The medical researches
Under the background of such happenings, the NFL was prompted to take action. In the winter of 2011, group medical professions in the field undertook a research. The research involved 100 active and former National league players. They represented twenty seven teams and all positions. The players underwent a brain SPECT imaging, clinical history, q-EEG, and multiple neuropsychological measures that included MicroCog. To meet the inclusion criteria the player must have played in the NFL for a minimum of three years. Current and former players who could not cease taking psychoactive medications for an appropriate period before the scan were excluded. Before undertaking any activities, the players received explanations about what the research entailed. They had to give a written informed consent with an institution review board-approved protocol.
All participants were interviewed by a physician. They completed a detailed history that included a 3I5-question DSM-IV driven questionnaire. This was meant to asses the overall and mental health of the participants. Waist and height sizes were obtained on all participants and waist to height ratio established. Instances of loss of consciousness and brain concussions wew also recorded. The participants were asked to recall the number of concussion they had experienced through out their careers. They were also asked about periods where they experienced distinct loss of consciousness. However, past medical records were not available for many participants. Documentation of such experiences were hardly recorded in the eras that they played. Three computerized neuropsychological test were also administered to the participants. They included MicroCog this is an assessment of cognitive functions. The participants also tool continous performance test which meausured inhibition and attention. A mild cognitive impairment screen was also administered. The players also underwent a high resolution brain SPECT imaging and q-EEG. The detailed results obtained from the research suggested that playing professional football is associated with a significantly higher risk of permanent brain damage. The study also showed that, a retired NFL player compared to a healthy non NFL playing person of the same age bracket, had significantly reduced blood flow in the frontal cerebral region, the temporal region and occipital lobe region of the brain. This would result to a compromised neuropsychological functioning.
A study undertaken by Albert Einstein School of Medicine found that, the micro structural integrity of the brain tissues found in participants who suffered concussions were abnormally low compared to the micro integrity of the brain tissue of concussion free participants. The school had developed a technology called diffuse tensor imaging. The device could detect unique abnormalities in the brains of the ones who had concussions where other methods had failed. Such a device would go a long way in aiding NFL players with mild concussions.
Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy carried out a four-year study with the VA Boston system and the sport legacy institute. In a study of 85 people, the study showed 80% of them showed evidence of CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Nearly all of them played sport. 50 of the people found to have CTE were football players. 33 of them played in the NFL. Most of them were running backs and linemen positions that tend to expose one to more contact with the opposing players.
Over the years, NFL has under come under great legal and media pressure to look into the issue of brain damage among NFL players. Earlier this year, scores of law suits by thousands former NFL players now touched by concussion and head injuries were consolidated into one master complaint. The NFL was accused of hiding information that linked permanent head damage to football head-trauma. The NFL has been forced to pay numerous compensation over the years. This compensation is a have mainly been to former NFL players who have ended up with long term brain injuries as a result of their career playing American football.
American football is a part of the American culture but nevertheless, it is evident from the above examples, that it has over time caused unwarranted pain and health degradation to its players. The numerous instances of players showing symptoms of CTE and other chronic head conditions portray the ugly side of this game. More attention and emphasize should be put on protecting the current players. As well as, looking after the well-being of retired players whose live have dramatically changed due to the shortcomings living with a brain condition. Brain injury obtained while playing American football is no myth it’s a profound reality that needs to be quickly addressed and looked into.