The Brain Game

Good health becomes more important as we age. That’s why last Sunday, while much of the world was watching the Super Bowl, I watched the movie “Concussion.” It’s the true story of a doctor trying to make the world aware of the serious brain damage being done to football players.

Professional football players use their heads as battering rams. Even though they wear safety helmets, each year players experience serious head trauma. Dr. Bennet Omalu first diagnosed the brain condition called CTE that he found when performing autopsies on players who had suffered repeated concussions during their careers. After publishing his findings in a medical journal, the pathologist found himself the target of an angry and powerful NFL.

I’m not against this beloved American pastime. It’s not my favorite sport, but I can see the beauty and skill of the game. But the ominous side of football has been hidden for too long. Coaches and owners go to extreme measures to keep players in the game, even after they’ve been hurt.

I’m not writing this because of how things turned in the last 5 minutes of play in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Something about football reminds me of scenes of gladiators fighting to the death in an ancient colosseum. One movie won’t change the historic human thirst for blood sport. But how many brains and lives must be destroyed in the name of entertainment?

Some sobering facts were shown at the end of the film. After being sued by over 5,000 players in 2011, the NFL continued concealing the truth. They finally settled on the condition that they would not have to disclose what they knew and when.

Actuaries hired by the NFL concluded that a whopping 28% of professional football players will suffer serious cognitive impairment. That’s a significant proportion! In a country already faced with problems of age-related cognitive issues, it’s something to think about.

As journalist George Will put it: “Football is entertainment in which the audience is expected to delight in gladiatorial action that a growing portion of the audience knows may cause the players degenerative brain disease.”

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