Last year, the PBS show Frontline aired a show titled "League of Denial" on head injuries in professional football. For many of us, it was an eye-opening report on the concussion crisis in pro sports.
A month ago, a federal judge granted preliminary approval to a landmark deal that would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims. The payout, totaling more than $870 million, included $675 million for compensatory claims for players with neurological symptoms.
And just last week, the NCAA agreed to settle a class-action head-injury lawsuit by creating a $70 million fund to diagnose thousands of current and former college athletes to determine if they suffered brain trauma playing football, hockey, soccer and other contact sports. Unlike the NFL's settlement, the NCAA's deal covers only diagnostic medical expenses but it preserves college athletes' rights to sue their universities or the NCAA for personal-injury damages.
The lead plaintiff, Adrian Arrington, a former safety at Eastern Illinois, said he endured five concussions while playing and some were so severe he has said he couldn't recognize his parents afterward. According to his filings, he endured subsequent headaches, memory loss, seizures and depression which made it difficult to work or even care for his children.
Former Central Arkansas wide receiver Derek K. Owens, another named plaintiff, said after several concussions, he found he could no longer retain what he had just studied. His symptoms became so severe that he dropped out of school in 2011, telling his mother that he felt "like a 22-year-old with Alzheimer's."
Joseph Siprut, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the NCAA case changes sports forever and that stricter oversight and return-to-play rules should help allay the fears of parents about letting their kids play. He said had changes not occurred, "the sport will die."
While these latest legal actions involve college and pro athletes, youth football and scholastic athletes are also a concern. Although the data for high school concussions is more limited, one national study found high school football players suffer concussions at a rate of 11.2 per 10,000 "athletic exposures" compared with 6.3 for college football players.
It's estimated that the average high school lineman takes between 1,000 to 1,500 hits to the head each season, some at forces equivalent to or greater than a 25-mile-an-hour car crash. It's also important to note that most organized sports-related injuries (62 percent) occur during practice rather than games and because of that fact, there are calls for high impact drills at youth football practices to be modified or even eliminated.
An alarm bell has been sounded on concussions, making it impossible to hide the problem as the NFL once tried to do.
By Jim Zbick