The Big Game, Concussions and Long-Term Health

Injury to the brain is bad.

Chronic repeated injuries to the brain are worse.

Junior Seau, after a career with the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, began to see severe declines in his health, depression and problems with the law. He shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied, and when it was studied it showed the chronic effects of repeated brain injuries.

The problem was first investigated when boxing was a very popular sport. People loved the bouts, but boxers fared poorly after retiring from the sport. The recent death of Muhammad Ali was a perfect example of this problem. Scientists determined that it was the total number of rounds boxed in a career and the number of knockouts they had received that accurately determined the risk of injury. This chronic injury was given a name, dementia pugilistica, reflecting the fact that it was caused by boxing.

Researchers had been aware that other sports also had a risk of brain injury. But it wasn’t until the autopsy and brain analysis of a former football player that showed pathological changes nearly identical to that of boxers, that people began to take it seriously.

Subsequent analysis of football players’ brains after they have died has not been reassuring. According to the New York Times:

”In a 2012 study, 85 people who had histories of repeated mild traumatic brain injury, showed (sic) 68, nearly all of whom played sports, showed evidence of C.T.E. Fifty were football players, including 33 who played in the N.F.L.”

So far, the steps that organized football organizations have taken to mitigate the damage is minimal, but it is at least a bit better than what has happened with two other concussion-prone sports, soccer and hockey.

The long-term effects of these injuries include increased risks of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Many people, if given the chance, would trade glory in their youth for health and security in their later years. Boxing still exists, for example, even though every boxer knows the risk of dementia pugilistica. But remember that if you decide to watch the big game, even for the commercials, you are watching something that is causing long term damage to the players.

This is why for people who want the excitement of athletic competition, sports and activities that don’t involve repeated head injury are a better choice. Basketball, baseball, tennis and other similar activities are great for your health, fun to play and don’t carry the same risks. Exercise is a wonderful way to stay healthy; repeatedly hitting your head is not.

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