On Tuesday 75 former NFL players filed a lawsuit against the NFL claiming that:
“The NFL knew as early as the 1920s of the harmful effects on a player’s brain of concussions; however, until June of 2010 they concealed these facts from coaches, trainers, players and the public.” (ESPN.com)
Before we get into the question of “was the NFL hiding certain medical information about concussions from their employees?”… how about we acknowledge that the NFL has never followed the long existing advice for the treatment of concussions.
I’m no physician, but every doctor I’ve ever spoken to about concussions has said, “a concussion needs to heal properly or you risk further damage to the brain.” When I got a concussion a few years ago, (I fainted and slammed my head on a tile floor) the doctor I saw told me I needed to avoid head injury for 3 months in order to let my brain heal. Being someone who practices the avoidance of head injury on a daily basis anyway, this was fairly easy advice for me to follow. If you look up “healing a concussion” online you will see that most medical sites recommend “taking several months to recover… while avoiding activities that could result in a second head injury” (nyp.org). Are NFL players adhering to these recommendations? If a player gets a concussion in week one, following this advice would mean that he’s out until the first week in December. Has anyone ever heard of a guy sitting out that long for a concussion? I haven’t. Whose job is it to make sure that a player’s brain heals properly after a concussion, the NFL’s or the player’s? Should the NFL force an individual to stay out of a game for 3 months or should it be that individual’s choice?
I do believe that it is the NFL’s responsibility to provide their employees with as much information as they possibly can about on the job risks. On an episode of CBS’s 60 Minutes in October of 2009, NFL team doctor and brain injury committee member Dr. Andrew Tucker stated that he stands by the following statement written by the NFL on a concussion pamphlet given to players: “current research has not shown that having more than one or two concussions leads to permanent problems if each injury is handled properly.” Ok, that statement may be true. But, where is the information on this pamphlet about how to “properly” handle the injury?
As the 75 retired players claim in their lawsuit, it seems as if the NFL has been vague about the risks of concussions when speaking with their players. Yes, the NFL has taken certain actions such as giving money to medical research centers, and fining current players for helmet-to-helmet hits. But, I don’t believe that’s enough. The reluctance on the NFL’s part to admit the correlation between multiple concussions and serious illnesses seems irresponsible, given that there have been several medical studies linking the occurrence of multiple unhealed concussions to diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy a progressive degenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s in its symptoms, but with it’s own distinct pathology).
So why is the NFL not wholeheartedly acknowledging that this is a serious issue? Is this lawsuit going to force them to step up to the plate and come up with a real plan to help suffering retirees? Is it going to encourage them to come up with practical solutions for keeping the current NFL players healthy and informed?
*If you missed it a couple of months ago here is my interview with tackle training coach Bobby Hosea. He teaches football players of all ages proper tackling technique to avoid head injury.