Last week, the National Football League admitted something local parents have already concluded. There is a link between playing football and developing devastating, debilitating brain disease.
The admission from the league’s Jeff Miller, senior vice president for health and safety, in front the U.S. House of Representatives did not cause so much as a ripple through newsrooms, school boards or local Pop Warner meetings. That’s because the admission is years, decades late.
Parents old enough to remember may recall the short career of Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver, and NFL Hall of Famer, Lynn Swann. Swann, an integral tool to Pittsburgh’s potent offense during its run for four Super Bowl championships, was often the target of hard hits on the field. As a player, he wasn’t shy to allege that some of those hits were intended to knock him out of the game. He would retire after the 1982 season, at the age of 30.
In the Bill Gutman book “Gridiron Greats: Campbell; Zorn; Swann; Grogan,” Swann stated his fears over concussions, and what they could do to him outside of football. The book was published to young adults under Tempo publishing in 1979 — 37 years ago.
Other sports and players have already recognized the hazards over concussions. Brett Lindros, the brother of former NHL star Eric Lindros, was forced to end a promising professional career at 20, after playing only 51 games. That was in 1996 — 20 years ago.
No, the ripple effects seen from the NFL’s recent admission may come from the overwhelming evidence that ties concussions to impact sports like football and hockey. Today’s science has already linked cases with other sports.
ABCNews reported the case of Patrick Grange two years ago, after the 29-year old professional died from an illness related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. After his death in 2012, an examination of his brain revealed signs of the degenerative neurological disorder Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Athletes today are bigger and faster. Defensive lineman who weight upwards of 400 pounds can run 40-yard dashes at five seconds or less. Imagining the impact caused by a player of such stature is beyond comprehension.
Brief conversations with football coaches on the youth level have been seeing numbers decline over the years. Once competing communities are forced to join together to form a hybrid league to address the dwindling number of players choosing to play football.
Parents already have a quick answer to the problem that plagues football today: Our kids aren’t playing. The NFL had 40 years to square up and tackle this situation, and now it has a problem. The most popular sport in the land has a questionable future. It needs only look at the past to see why.