When I was growing up and playing lacrosse (back in the days when you could actually line someone up and hit them full-body) that a good hit was something spectacular. I can also remember being hit so hard that you felt it through your whole body – once I almost felt as though I could not get up… but I kept on going. Whilst growing up I had a friend, David Black, who said that he knew he had made a good hit when he hit somebody so hard that snot would come out of his nose. Yes – those were the days.
But concussion is no joke. As athletes become fitter, stronger and faster the number of concussions that we see in professional sports continues to grow. This has been well-documented in American football and now rugby. Rugby is an incredibly powerful and athletic sport, the ball keeps moving forward yet you are passing it backwards – these guys are taking huge hits and they don’t even wear any pads. But the threat of concussion is a real one, and given the number of instances we are seeing and the underlying dangers concussion can cause, we may need to see some modifications in the way rugby is played in the near future.
Let’s look into the issue of concussion
In 2009 Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, actually denied the severity of concussion in NFL and failed to do more to help players with brain injuries. Now the issue has finally moved higher up – I’m talking the White House. last week President Obama gathered leading sports experts and researchers to find a way to help combat the growing concussion crisis.
The real issue, however, is that American football in its nature is a violent sport and a good clean hit is applauded and if you knock someone out whilst hitting them it’s almost even better. A fine balance must be kept to make the game safer whilst still keeping it entertaining and retaining the speed, power and violence that makes it such an appealing sport. We need to make reforms without destroying the culture of the sport and turning people away.
The fact is that multiple concussions can contribute to advanced dementia and players have even committed suicide after facing severe mental health problems. I know for a fact that because of this issue many families are not allowing their children to play this traditional American sport. American football is engrained in the culture of the USA, the Super Bowl, Thanksgiving, Tailgating – it’s all part of what makes the country so great. It is vitally important that this issue is dealt with swiftly.
The NFL has recently reached a tentative deal of $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries to 18,000 retired players, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical examination and underwrite research. But settlements aren’t enough. We need preventative action, we need to make this beloved national sport safer and really try to eradicate the risk of devastating brain injuries to our young athletes.