by Monica's Dad
We mothers know that shaking a baby to stop sustained crying is dangerous. When the baby's brain knocks against the inside of the skull it causes a concussion that can result in death.
In general, mothers are more likely to be concerned than fathers about their sons being injured while playing football, but they are often labeled as overly-protective, willing to let their boys be seen as wimps.
Although in football it is the whole body that gets beaten up -- lungs, kidneys, joints, spines, foreheads, legs, even the feet -- concussion is the sports injury that has received a lot of attention in the past few years.
Coaches now have guidelines on how to treat a player who has "had his bell rung." A New York Times article (3/18/13) reported that the American Academy of Neurology, "had revised its guidelines for handling concussions to emphasize treating athletes case by case rather than on a predetermined scale."
In the recent Panthers/Patriots game a fleeting off-the-field shot showed a trainer or team doctor moving a raised index finger back and forth in front of a player's eyes in order to determine, one might suppose, whether he could go back in.
Recently, Frontline, a PBS program, explored this topic in League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Problem. The documentary chronicled the struggle by the medical profession, former players and their families to get NFL commissioners, wealthy team owners and their doctors to acknowledge that there was a problem.
It was "dÃ©j- vu all over again." Remember that congressional hearing on April 15, 1994, when Big Tobacco execs, known as the seven dwarves, swore under oath that nicotine was not addictive? Congress had already passed laws ten years earlier, in 1983, requiring cigarette companies to warn buyers that cigarettes were hazardous to one's health. In 1984, the Surgeon --General of the United States, Dr. C. Everett Koop, asked the US public to make this a smoke-free country by 2000. It seemed an impossible task at that time but we are almost there.
This medical condition now has a name -- Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy -- thanks to the testimony of wives and widows who identified a collection of CTE symptoms: anger, violent behavior, confusion, memory loss, disorientation, insomnia, depression, and dementia.
In 2010, a Boston University neuropathologist, Dr. Ann McKee, autopsied the brains of twenty men who had played football. Nineteen were found to have abnormal brains. The NFL, pursuing the "admit nothing" strategy of tobacco execs, were not impressed, claiming that there could be other causes -- genetics, for example -- that produced such a result.
Then McKee examined forty-five brains and forty-four were shown to be abnormal. Brains that showed that cell damage had already caused dementia or would have caused some form of it. But the NFL stayed on message: Her findings amounted to "insufficient evidence."
But this year 4500 retired NFL players settled a $2 billion suit for $765 million, charging that the NFL had fraudulently concealed the dangers of playing football. The NFL, however, admitted nothing. Eliminating the possibility of concussions would be the ruination of the game.
Neuropathologists have gone on to find that high-school players and those even younger are especially prone to this condition. It makes sense, doesn't it, that if babies can die from being shaken so can nine-year olds or seventeen-year-olds or thirty-year-olds when they have been thrown to the ground again and again or struck on the side of the head.
It is remarkable, then, that at the exact point when the NFL's own report told them there was a problem, the administration at the University of Massachusetts and its Board of Trustees saw fit -- not to dismantle the University's football program -- but to ramp it up.
Moving into Big Time Football would put UMass on the map! To heck with fooling around with McGuirk Stadium's puny seating capacity of 17,000. Let's go straight to the top to the 75,000 seats in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough -- never mind that it's across the state -- where the New England Patriots play. Never mind that students will undoubtedly pay the lion's share of the costs of this endeavor. Instead, think of how thrilling it will be to occupy box seats as UMass plays Michigan, cheered on by a sell-out crowd of University alums from the Boston area!
Cynics tell fans not to worry about football being banned since our culture thrives on violence. For instance, the event that generates cheers almost as loud as a touchdown is a player who takes an opponent out of the action with an extra hard slam to the turf. Audiences will hear commentators approve the action, saying it's tough but it's legal.
It isn't the opportunity to watch NASCAR drivers race their autos round and round a track that draws the crowds. That is pretty boring. What's exciting is the likelihood that there will be a horrifying but thrilling collision of some kind.