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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Frontline headaches for NFL

On Oct. 8, Frontline released a documentary called League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. This two-hour long documentary describes the NFL’s seemingly egregious actions to reject research regarding the possibility of concussions leading to severe repercussions for NFL players.

While Frontline uses sad music, slow motion and various other gimmicks to make its points more dramatic, the documentary does bring up an interesting question. How much did the NFL know about concussions, and why wasn’t the information shared with the players and the public?

I believe the answer is clear. The NFL knew a lot more than it claimed and refused to share its knowledge with the players and the public for one reason: money.

The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry. According to Forbes, the Dallas Cowboys are worth $2.3 billion alone. A concussion scare would cost the Cowboys and the NFL revenue, and the NFL can’t stand the thought of slashing their oh-so-precious bottom line.

After all, what would the multi-billion dollar NFL owners do if they lost a million or two in revenue? Does the billionaire owner need the extra profit to fuel the private jets or the Bugatti?

Does this additional income mean more to the owners than the tragic story of Mike Webster, who suffered from depression and other issues due to the concussions he suffered playing in the NFL?

Apparently it does.

So, the NFL does what it does best — it covers its back. The NFL hires the top lawyers who use its infinite resources to bury the claims of thousands of players and a growing number of researchers.

Even worse, in 2009, the NFL hired a group of independent researchers to study the effects of playing football on the brain. When the researchers came back to the NFL stating that its players had higher rates of dementia, the league backed away from the research it funded.

The co-chairman of the concussion committee, Dr. Ira Casson, decided that the study did not have valid research. The NFL discredited its own study like a little boy who doesn’t get his way.

Why am I so against how the NFL has been handling this situation? Well, for one, I love sports and it saddens me when the business of sports rears its ugly head. But probably more importantly, I’ve had a personal, though brief, encounter with the world of concussions.

In high school, I got a concussion playing basketball. I was driven to the emergency room and took the standard CT scan — which is ridiculously pricey, but that is another topic — and was told that I had a mild concussion but would be fine in a few days.

The next day I wasn’t able to walk straight and wanted to puke my guts out every time I stood up. However, two days after the concussion, I felt completely fine. I hadn’t really thought about it since then, until recently.

I’m not saying the concussion did anything to cause me permanent neurological damage, although my grades might say otherwise. I’m definitely not saying that the NFL should care about me. After all, my total income is not even one millionth of a percent of the NFL’s annual revenue.

All I’m saying is that it isn’t an isolated problem, and we as a society should care. The problem of concussions and brain trauma isn’t only happening to the professional athletes that we watch on the weekends. It happens to amateur athletes, victims of car accidents and wounded soldiers as well.

The importance of this issue lies not in its rate of occurrences, the fame of those who have been impacted or even the fact that professional sports — especially the NFL — have taken steps to hide the impacts of concussions. Rather, it lies in the simple fact that there are large possible repercussions for those who have been concussed.

I urge the NCAA and universities to continue funding for research and to seek answers in the realm of brain injuries. While I’m not naïve enough to believe that any corporation is altruistic or looking out solely for the athletes’ well-beings, the universities have been the one consistent source of breaking information on brain injuries. Hopefully, one day they will be able to limit the damage as well.

Sports are great and people should enjoy sports — whether it be playing them or watching them. My column should not scare people away from playing sports. However, the next time you see Donte Hitner — I mean Whitner — lay out someone on Sunday, understand that the receiver who got his “bell rung” might not be “OK” afterall. And for those of you who play sports, please take care of your brains. After all, you only get one of them.

Those who learned that PBS is not just for Sesame Street should email KENNETH LING at sports@theaggie.org.


  1. Important story and relevant to anyone putting on a football helmet (or who has a child doing so) at any level. I think it means one thing for the NFL, but quite another for everyone else in the same way that the risks of race car driving would mean one thing to NASCAR and another to high schools and colleges if they were to offer automobile racing as a sport. Btw, the doctor who performed the autopsy on NFL All Star Mike Webster and discovered this condition (CTE), Dr. Bennet Omalu, is now an associated professor at UC Davis (http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/publish/news/newsroom/8274). Would seem to be a good candidate for a follow up story.


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