League of Denial

I finished League of Denial last week. It’s about the NFL and its denial of concussions causing long-term brain damage in former players. This book hit home with me for two totally different reasons.

First, my grandfather played for the Bears in the 1940s. he played in the era of leather helmets. I have a picture of him on my wall in a leather helmet. He was a lineman. He played both offense and defense. He grew up in Chicago and played football in college for Carroll College – a small school in Wisconsin. Times were different back then and sports were not about obscene amounts of money. George Halas, owner and coach of the Bears invited my grandfather to try out. My grandfather had to hitchhike to Chicago and borrow a pair of cleats from one of his teammates. He made $75 a week playing both ways – all game. I can only guess the number of hits he took to his head.

He was never diagnosed with CTE or Dementia. In fact, he had his faculties about him when he passed away. However, he did have Parkinson’s disease, another disease that can be related to repeated head trauma. I have often wondered whether is playing football had anything to do with his Parkinson’s. I will never have an answer to that question. But it makes me wonder nonetheless.

Second, my son started playing tackle football three years ago. And he’s already had one concussion. I’m scared to death of him playing. In fact as much as I love football, I am so very torn about the sport after having read this book.

The simple fact of the matter is that the NFL has denied and continues to deny that playing football causes long-term brain damage. Despite the fact that former players are testing positive after death for CTE, which develops from repeated blows to the head. And it’s not big concussions where you get knocked unconscious that are the problem. It’s the thousands of small hits the brain absorbs that is probably causing the problem. The brain is encased in a skull without much in the way of padding. And when you hit your head, your brain hits your skull. This repetitive hitting causing a build up of proteins in the brain that cause Dementia. Knees and shoulders and such can be replaced. Your brain cannot. And that is what I fear about my son playing football.

I don’t think the NFL has put forth any effort to have an honest discussion about concussions. I think it is because they know if they are honest about the chance of long-term brain damage, people will stop letting their kids play. And the league will wither. In the mean time, I am reluctant to let my son continue to play tackle football, despite the fact that he loves it. He’s smart and he has the potential to do a lot of good. My husband disagrees on the matter, as does my father. And all I can say to that is maybe it’s because I’m a woman and a mom and I worry about Patrick’s health. Or maybe I just don’t want to see him deteriorate mentally as a side-effect of playing a game in which your chances of making it in the pros are small and the positions he plays only have an average career lasting three years. I struggle with being over-protective. I struggle with being under-concerned. I’m not sure where I will end up on this one. But Patrick already knows that if he gets another concussion, I’m pulling the plug.

For any parent who has a son playing football, read this book.

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