NFL Seahawks linebacker Joshua Perry announced his retirement from playing at just 24 years of age. The reasons for his retirement stem from the diagnosis of a sixth concussion and his concerns over his mental health.
Concussions and permanent head trauma from the game forced Perry to retire. He stated in an interview that, “the last thing I want to do is put the health of my brain and my future wellbeing in jeopardy over a game and over a paycheck.”
The issue of concussions in the NFL and other major sporting events has recently gained traction after some reports show that a high volume of retired NFL players have suffered concussions during their career. These players were left with long-term cognitive issues, including depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
A concussion does not require that you lose consciousness. In fact, you may never lose consciousness yet still suffer a severe traumatic injury.
Since the discovery of long-term cognitive disorders and the injuries sustained during their career, several football players and their loved ones have filed lawsuits against the NFL, including Art Monk, Jim McMahon, Jamal Anderson, and Tony Dorsett.
While concussions are publicized for occurring in the professional sector, any football player is at risk for suffering a serious injury – including those playing for recreation, school leagues, and minor leagues.
The human brain is delicate. While it is protected by your skull and also a football helmet, the brain inside can still bounce around and even twist inside the skull – especially when you hit your head hard enough. Rapid motion inside the skull is what leads to a traumatic brain injury known as a concussion.
Concussions are common but the damage done might be permanent, especially if you continue to play while recovering from a concussion.
During a hard impact, neurons inside the brain become damaged from stretching out. This forces your brain’s natural chemistry to lose its balance, and it is why you might see “stars” immediately after a concussion, feel disoriented, briefly lose consciousness, or suffer from chronic headaches. The effects do not always go away immediately. Sometimes you will suffer from a concussion for weeks to months following the trauma.
In the average football season, players smash their heads or suffer from trauma each week. Even though there are rules in place now that fine players for helmet hits, it does not stop everyone. The NFL has not prevented concussions with their latest penalty policy.
Despite the penalties and fines, the latest NFL injury reports show that the number of concussions has not dipped significantly enough to show improvement.
In 2012, there were 261 concussions, and in 2017 there were 281 reported concussions. The lowest concussions in the past five years comes from 2014 where only 206 concussions were reported. The data only reflects actual concussions diagnosed but does not look into the numerous hits to the head that each player sustains – and the risks that come along with those hits.
CTE is a degenerative disease that only occurs from multiple traumatic events; therefore, it is not something you find in a person with one concussion. Instead, repeated TBIs – including impacts not severe enough to cause a concussion – result in long-term structural abnormalities in the brain.
Brains with CTE have high levels of the Tau protein. As Tau clumps together inside the brain tissue, it interrupts the flow of information.
The symptoms of CTE can vary and depend on the severity of the disease. Some common symptoms include:
In 2017, former NFL player Aaron Hernandez hung himself in prison while serving a sentence for murder. During his autopsy, it was found that he had one of the most severe cases of CTE ever seen in someone 27 years old.
Most importantly, CTE develops over time – sometimes taking eight to 10 years to manifest. Furthermore, it requires repeated trauma to the brain. And the more injury sustained, the worse the CTE becomes.
CTE develops in stages, and the symptoms vary depending on the stage. For example, someone in Stage I might only suffer short-term memory loss, headaches, and an inability to focus their attention. Once they reach the more severe stages of CTE, which is Stage IV, they suffer from language issues, aggressive tendencies, explosive rage and behavior, paranoia, depression, and a profound loss of attention.
The only way you can say for sure that someone has CTE is during a brain autopsy. Technology with MRIs have improved enough to help diagnose it in some cases, but it is still in its infancy. Therefore, it is hard for even researchers to say for sure how many current and retired players have CTE.
However, there are over a dozen confirmed cases – especially from players who donated their brains for research.
In 2017, JAMA posted a study after researchers had conducted autopsies on the brains of 202 former football players. These players were not only NFL players, but also those who played in college and a few who played in high school.
Out of the 202 brains that they examined, 177 of those brains (which comes to 90 percent) were diagnosed with CTE. More disturbing was the fact that those who played football through college and went on to professional leagues suffered worse brain damage. Among those brains examined that were in the NFL, 99 percent had CTE.
Because the brains were donated, it is unlikely that all NFL players have CTE or will develop CTE. However, the JAMA study does conclude that anyone playing football for a more extended period is at high risk for developing CTE.
CTE has been happening for decades, but only in 2009 did the NFL finally admit there was a concussion problem. For years, they denied the correlations between concussions and CTE.
The NFL was donating millions to concussion-related research. But according to ESPN, they backed out of one study that resulted in a failed $30 million research partnership.
It is true that the NFL took measures to make the game safer, such as removing players from the field immediately if they sustain head trauma in game. They have banned helmet-to-helmet contact and reduced the amount of contact allowed during practice season games. They are also currently working on making artificial playing surfaces to minimize head trauma when a player impacts the ground.
Despite their published protocols, the NFL has not seen a decrease in the number of concussions or even CTE cases.
If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, they can only return to the game after they go through a five step protocol.
These five steps include:
Whether you have suspected CTE, lost a loved one with a confirmed diagnosis of CTE, or you have suffered another degenerative brain disorder because of your time in the NFL and other professional sports leagues, you deserve legal representation. The medical costs and long-term impact these conditions have on your life is something that the league should pay for – not you.