Concussions are in the headlines once again as awareness grows about a possible link between concussions and the permanent brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The issue has far-reaching implications, including for one of the country’s most venerated institutions: the National Football League.
A major complaint filed last month against the NFL involving more than 2,400 former professional football players alleges that the NFL was not only aware of links between head injuries (such as concussions) and permanent brain injuries, but that they attempted to hide the information from players and the public. According to a June 30 AP report, “At issue is whether the NFL knew if there were links between football-related head trauma and permanent brain injuries and failed to take appropriate action.” Attorneys for retired players accuse the NFL of “negligence and intentional misconduct in its response to the headaches, dizziness, and dementia that their clients have reported.”
The league has denied the charges, stating, “The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions” (Huffington Post, June 7).
According to a 2009 study commissioned by the NFL and conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, former professional football players report being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other mental impairments at many times the national average. Although the study was based on interviews and self-reporting rather than on independent diagnoses, the results suggest an alarming rate of memory-related problems.
Amid the swirl of headlines, allegations, and denials, one thing is clear: concussion is a brain injury that must be taken seriously by those who work with athletes at every level. With this goal in mind, PAR has been working closely with researchers at the Matthew Gfeller Sport-related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to develop tools that can help coaches, athletic trainers, and parents recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion and respond appropriately. The Concussion Recognition & Response™ app (for parents and coaches) and the Concussion Assessment & Response™ app (for athletic trainers, team physicians, and other medical professionals) are the result of this collaboration.
Are attitudes toward concussion changing in your community? Is the recent media coverage helping to raise awareness about brain injuries? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!