The world of football is challenged on a regular basis by the experiences associated with traumatic brain injuries in athletes, sustained during hits to the body that lead to significant trauma and health concerns such as concussions. These experiences have become increasingly prevalent in recent years and have been investigated in terms of the long-term impacts of these injuries and how they impact athletes over a period of many years. This is a challenging and important concern of many athletes and coaches and demonstrates the influence of continuous impact on health and wellbeing over time, including the development of research methods to examine this phenomenon more closely and to facilitate improved outcomes for this group. It is expected that there will be moral and ethical concerns to consider with the development of protocols to better manage the risks associated with traumatic brain injury for this population.
The National Football League (NFL) has become increasingly invested in research and clinical investigations regarding traumatic brain injury in athletes because this problem has led to many long-term consequences (Johns Hopkins Medicine). Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the condition more closely and to monitor athletes over a longer period of time to determine if any evidence suggests that the impact of repeated injuries in the form of concussions or other diagnoses may have serious impact on health and wellbeing over a period of many years (Johns Hopkins Medicine). However for some athletes, there is a risk associated with traumatic brain injury even if concussions are not present, and therefore, this subset of the population must also be addressed (Science Daily). For this group, repeated hits to the area surrounding the brain increase the likelihood of the release of a specific protein into the bloodstream, thereby leading a form of autoimmune response (Science Daily). These factors indicate that traumatic brain injury in football players is of primary concern and should be evaluated in the context of its impact on long-term health and wellbeing for these athletes, particularly when they experience repeated injuries on a regular basis (Science Daily).
In recent months, investigation into the brain activity and trauma of retired athletes has become increasingly relevant in response to the perceived lack of protection against traumatic brain injuries and the challenges associated with a greater tendency to commit suicide within this group (Huffington Post). Based upon a recent lawsuit filed by former players, it is believed that the NFL has been negligent over many years in their efforts to provide players with the necessary protections to prevent concussions and other forms of brain injury (Huffington Post). Therefore, this is an important area of consideration for many players and should be of primary concern for the NFL, the families of these and other athletes, and medical staff working with these athletes throughout the football season and beyond (Huffington Post). These efforts must demonstrate that the protection of these athletes from unnecessary blows to the head is critical to their ability to conduct their lives without an increased risk of brain trauma and other concerns, such as suicide (Huffington Post).
From an ethical perspective, it is important and necessary to identify the primary concerns that are associated with the risk of traumatic brain injury in football players. Due to the nature of football as a popular spectator sport, the ability of millions of fans to witness player hits and potential traumatic brain injuries is jarring to the viewer, even if he or she does not realize the severity of the hit and how it might impact the player over the long term. Therefore, this circumstance must be evaluated more closely in an effort to determine how to better protect these players from this type of risk, because if the NFL and college teams do not protect their athletes at maximum capacity, they are placing their players at unnecessary risk, where serious damage to the brain could occur. This is a challenging prospect to consider and it prohibits the ability of many players to lead healthy and productive lives after their retirement, particularly if they continue to experience brain-related trauma and mental incapacitation or other side effects, such as depression and the risk of suicide.
By ignoring the problem of traumatic brain injuries, sports teams and association place themselves in greater jeopardy because they do not take the steps that are necessary to provide their players with maximum protection against severe hits to the skull and brain areas. Under these conditions, this issue poses a serious moral and ethical threat to the integrity of the game of football. In spite of the risks associated with the game to begin with, players should not be placed at any greater risk than the norm when they play the game. If this is not the case, then organizations such as the NFL and the NCAA should be held liable for the damages that are incurred. This is a natural response yet it is appropriate for these types of injuries because they significantly impact players and may lead to eventual death.
The development of a successful approach to managing traumatic brain injuries in football players requires an effective understanding of the moral and ethical consequences of the failure to protect players from these risks. Although there is always a risk associated with playing a contact sport such as football, protecting the skull and brain from severe hits and possible injury should be of the utmost importance to coaches and to sponsoring associations. It is the responsibility of these organizations to take the steps that are required to ensure that their clients are protected and do not face unnecessary risks during football play. These efforts are important because they provide further evidence that if organizations do not take the steps to protect their players, then they may be considered negligent in the event that a traumatic event occurs. In recent months, the death by suicide of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher was questioned because of its potential association with traumatic brain injury. In addition, the suicide of Junior Seau faced a similar inquiry because of repeated concussions. With these examples, the NFL should play an important role in providing additional protection and support in the form of research and evaluation regarding these conditions because the continued increase of traumatic brain injuries and suicides is not favorable for the league’s reputation and its efforts to remain entertaining for its many fans.
From a public opinion perspective, it is necessary to consider the impact of traumatic brain injury on football players not only in real time, but over the long term. Since football is one of the most popular spectator sports in the world, this issue is relevant enough to cause concern and to warrant further investigation into this matter so that these athletes are protected against unnecessary risks and the sport may continue on without fear of these risks. Therefore, additional testing and research must be performed with this population in order to achieve greater outcomes in the prevention of traumatic brain injury and concussions that may lead to this condition to begin with.
Huffington Post. “Neuralstem, NFL Alumni Association to test feasibility of traumatic brain injury treatment.” 28 April 2013: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/neuralstem-nfl-brain-injury-treatment-_n_3148796.html
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Traumatic brain injury in professional football: an evidence-base perspective. 28 April 2013: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/stories/tbi.html
Science Daily. “Risk of brain damage in college football players, even among those withoutconcussions.” 28 April 2013://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307145742.htm