“Think of linemen in American football,” says Dr. Bob Stern, Professor of Neurology at Boston University. “They’re lined up for every play, every game, every practice, and they hit their heads against each other.” He describes this as 25G of force, “about the same as running a car into a brick wall at 35 miles per hour”. And these footballers do that “a thousand to 1500 times a year”. Stern calls this “sub-concussive because they’re not going off the field complaining and having all these symptoms. It’s just part of what they do every day”.
In all four codes of football, concussions and hard knocks are very common. The United States’ NFL recently donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health, supporting research of athlete brain injuries. This research connects head injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of dementia. It suggests that CTE may be caused by multiple sub-concussive hits. The implications of this research could change the face of high contact sports from the professionals right down grassroots, regardless of public opinion.
In a study the AFL Player’s Association commissioned, it was discovered that “more than half” of nearly 600 surveyed players “had had at least one concussion” and “more than a quarter had suffered three or more”.
Australian administrators, such as NRL Chief Medical Officer Ron Muratore, of AFL, League and Union codes, question how “careful” we should be in “interpreting the American research because their game is completely different…The aim of their game is to actually crash into each other with their heads…so potentially players are playing concussed”. But Australia doesn’t “have any such thing” like these modern-day gladiators, using helmeted heads as battering rams. “We take any head contact very seriously”, so we’ve seen Australian football no longer allow concussed players to finish games, and punish those who deliberately cause a head injury.
Football is a part of our culture. It unites communities and forms national pride. Bone-crunching hits are feeding frenzies for fans, and have become ‘just part of the game’. What’s more concerning is the fact that continuing the game following a hard knock is the mark of every courageous player.
High-impact sports have become like a “Roman Holiday”, where fans watch to see players get hammered. However, is it worth putting someone’s health at risk just for entertainment? Former Rugby players, like Steve Devine, sustained many severe head knocks throughout their careers which significantly impacted their later lives. Devine “remembers being in the dressing sheds…talking about moves that we thought would work in the second half” he “remembers hearing these moves’ names and…had absolutely no idea what they were”.
While Australian codes differ greatly from the NFL, our former players clearly show symptoms of CTE and brain damage. Chris Nowinski describes how symptoms have been found “in a 17 year-old football player, an 18-year-old, and pretty extensive in a 21 year-old”. This…