Produced by Steve James and Bruce Sheridan
It turns out that repeatedly banging your head can have serious long-term effects. That’s not just an urban legend. So who would go around banging their head all the time? The answer is football players, boxers, hockey players, soccer players and people like that.
Former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler Christopher Nowinski, Harvard graduate, has made a career of studying how often concussions happen in sports and what the long-term consequences are. Particularly in football, the numbers paint a grim picture. While the percentage of players diagnosed with a concussion may be down in the single digits, when you ask the right questions you find out that is just the tip of the iceberg. Surveying football players about specific symptoms they have experienced, Nowinski found that at least 50 percent have had a concussion. Robert Cantu, MD and co-founder of Concussion Legacy Foundation, puts the number at 100 percent based on his experience and the nature of the game.
As often happens, the story of concussions in the National Football League (NFL) was slow to come out for the usual reasons—money and liability. In the short term, symptoms may not seem significant. In the long term, NFL players are nineteen times more likely to suffer symptoms like Alzheimer’s, dementia and suicide. The number of well-known players suffering these symptoms has grown quickly enough to swamp any attempt by the League to deny the problem.
This isn’t just happening in professional sports. Nowinski notes that concussions are happening in children’s sports, and many players already have a problem before they even enter professional sports. It is not just men, either. Female soccer and basketball players are more likely than their male counterparts to have a concussion. It would be very interesting to hear a discussion on the possibility that concussions have become more common due to malnutrition and other declining health factors, but that is not covered in the video.
There are a range of possible solutions. Comedian Stephen Colbert suggests you stop while you still don’t have to wear a diaper. The NFL has made some rule changes, which probably help but don’t completely solve the problem. The game would have to be significantly changed to eliminate all risk. Upgrades to helmets and padding are another option that might have some limited benefit. Outlawing football is not discussed in the video and is unlikely, given its popularity. It is probably also not feasible if we are still pretending to be a free country. Many have chosen to play these full-contact sports knowing the risk, and that is a matter of individual choice—but it is important that everyone makes a fully informed choice. This video gets a thumbs UP for helping people do that.