Op-Ed of the Day: Head injuries in football

An op-ed by Kevin Cook in the New York Times grabbed Daily Circuit Senior Producer Chris Dall’s attention.

Cook follows up news from the journal Neurology. It just released a study of 3,439 retired National Football League players that looked at whether the athletes had a higher incidence of “neurodegenerative causes of death” — Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — than the general public.

football.jpg (A Cincinnati Bengals helmet sits on the turf before the start of the Benglas game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on September 10, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Fox News reports that the players had three times the chance of dying of such diseases than an average American and that particular positions fared even worse:

Non-linemen, such as quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, were three times more likely than defensive or offensive linemen–and six times more likely than the general population–to die from neurodegenerative diseases.

It’s a scary report for players and fans, but Kevin Cook says there are already changes in the sport. The NFL donated $30 million to study brain injuries in athletes and teams now implement a simple test to track the cognitive abilities of their players.

Before each season, players are shown a page featuring 20 words and asked to write down as many as they remember when the page is taken away. The same with 20 simple pictures: Draw as many as you can remember. Later, after an on-field hammering rings their mental bells, the pros take the same test. Match your baseline results or sit out.

Some players cheat. They purposely give wrong answers on the preseason baseline test in hopes of passing the test when they’re concussed. But no screening plan is foolproof, and this one has the virtue of simplicity. Every college and high school football program should use such a test until we find something better. Above all, though, football needs a culture change: parents, coaches and fans must never pressure an injured player to “get back in the game” before it’s clear that he’s of sound mind and body.

It’s a start.

–Stephanie Curtis, social media host