Last summer, the National Football League (NFL) announced it had reached a $765 million settlement with retired players who suffered from concussions and head injuries. But a federal judge has rejected the settlement and the debate about how to address the risk continues.
Even President Barack Obama has spoken: “I would not let my son play pro football,” he told The New Yorker magazine. But like many of us, he is a fan; he made the statement while watching the Miami Dolphins play the Carolina Panthers.
Recent surveys show many agree with the president, but many do not. In January, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported 40 percent of Americans would encourage their children to play another sport. Nearly 60 percent answered they would not discourage their children from playing organized football. Other findings include:
- Some 41 percent thought the NFL has taken meaningful action to reduce and prevent concussions; 20 percent disagreed.
- Roughly half of those surveyed with an annual salary of $75,000 or more said they would encourage their child to play another sport. On the other hand, only about 25 percent of those who earned $30,000 or less per would try to steer their child to another sport.
- One third of those who did not attend college said they would encourage their children not to play football, compared to 42 percent of college graduates and 57 percent of people with post-graduate degrees.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll included 800 adults and had a margin of error plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
In October, a HBO Real Sports/Marist poll reported a deeper divide. Out of more than 1,200 adults, one third said they would be less likely to allow their own son to play football if given the choice. But in the end, 85 percent said they would let their son play. Another 13 percent said they would not and two percent were unsure. (The study did not report on how respondents would feel about letting their daughters play.)
NFL Concussion Lawsuit
The NFL released figures in January showing the number of player concussions dropped 13 percent from 2012 to 2013. It has taken several steps to prevent concussions, including adding neurological consultants to the sidelines and replacing equipment.
But another notable part of the debate came from a recent NFL Nation survey of 320 players, just prior to the Super Bowl. The survey reported 85 percent would play in a Super Bowl with a concussion.
More than 4,500 retired players have filed concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL. The settlement must cover over 20,000 retired players for 65 years. The players accuse the league of long concealing the long-term risk of concussions from players, coaches and trainers. If an athlete suffers multiple concussions, it can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerate disease of the brain which is associated with memory loss, depression, paranoia, confusion and dementia.
Going the Distance, The New Yorker.
Poll Finds 40 Percent Would Sway Children Away from Football, Wall Street Journal.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning parents and others concerned about sports concussions that certain dietary supplement makers are making false claims.
The FDA issued a Dec. 31 warning, advising consumers to avoid dietary supplements claiming to prevent or treat concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The common claim is the dietary supplements promote faster healing times after a head injury. But the FDA said there is no scientific evidence to support this claim and it has the potential to cause serious injury. Athletes who return to play too soon because they believe they are cured risk long term health consequences. Repeated injuries which do not fully heal can cause brain swelling, permanent brain damage and long-term disability. They can also be fatal.
Over the past several years, many states have passed legislation to protect student athletes and professional sports leagues have made changes to protect players. In August, the National Football League (NFL) reached a $765 million settlement with 4,500 former players who suffered long-term injuries from concussions. Some of the money will help fund new research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition, which causes mental impairment, aggression and dementia, is linked to repeated hits to the head. But it can currently only be diagnosed after death.
In its recent update, the FDA also broadly warned consumers about all products labeled as dietary supplements which are marketed to cure, mitigate, treat or prevent disease. Dietary supplements are regulated differently than other food products and drugs.
There are over 85,000 supplements available today, but they require no approval before going to market. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Educational Act, the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring a product is safe before going to market and the FDA can take action against any unsafe product after it starts being sold.
Dietary Supplement Companies
In this case, the FDA acted on a tip from the U.S. Department of Defense and conducted market surveillance. It found two companies making improper claims: PruTect Rx of Highlands Ranch, Colorado and Trinity Sports Group Inc. of Plano, Texas. It issued warning letters in September 2012 and both companies changed their websites and labeling.
But in December 2013, the FDA had to warn a third company, Star Scientific, Inc. for marketing a product called Anatabloc with claims to treat TBIs.
The FDA said consumers may come across these dietary supplements on the Internet, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and retail outlets. They often promise to heal TBIs with ingredients such as turmeric, an Indian spice, and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil.
Can a Dietary Supplement Treat a Concussion? No., FDA Update.
Dietary Supplements, FDA.
Only 31 percent of Massachusetts high schools and middle schools complied last year with a state law mandating reporting on student athlete concussions. State officials are hoping for greater compliance when new figures come due August 31.
In 2010, Massachusetts passed a law aimed at identifying and preventing concussions among student athletes. Under the law, 689 public and private schools were required to report data for the 2011-2012 academic year. However, only 213 schools submitted figures, and those figures showed that 3,450 students had suffered a head injury or suspected concussion in sports. The figures were recently reported in The Boston Globe.
To encourage reporting this year, the state has changed its form to make deadlines appear more prominent and provide definitions for data.
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a force to the head, such as a fall or car accident. Symptoms typically include headaches, dizziness and memory problems. Left untreated, it can result in long-term brain impairment. In recent years, focus has been on preventing concussions in sports at every level, from the National Football League (NFL) to high schools down to Pop Warner football leagues.
Massachusetts is one of 47 states which have passed so-called “return to play” laws since 2009. The state of Washington passed the first concussion in sports law in 2009.
The Massachusetts sports concussion law requires students, parents and coaches to receive annual training to recognize the signs of a concussion. Students who sustain a concussion are required to sit out and obtain a doctor’s written permission to return to the game.
As a final step, schools must report figures to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). Public schools and those subject to the rules of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) must comply with the law.
Sports and recreational activities cause 3.8 million concussions each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When an athlete suffers a concussion, they become at risk for suffering another one. Proper rest is important, and teenagers, along with older adults and young children, are believed to have longer recovery periods.
If you are the parent of a student athlete, summer is a good time to learn about the law. Ask your child’s coach when the school will hold concussion training sessions. You can also read a summary of the Massachusetts sports concussion law.
State revises concussion reporting after weak response from schools, The Boston Globe.
In a new study, Boston University School of Medicine researchers autopsied the brains of deceased athletes who suffered repeated concussions and found the majority showed signs of a degenerative brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The researchers autopsied 85 deceased brain donors, including 82 athletes. This included 34 professional football players. Researchers found a buildup of an abnormal brain protein called tau in 68 brain donors. By contrast, they autopsied 18 brains with no known trauma and found no protein buildup. Tau is associated with CTE, a degenerative condition linked to memory loss, depression and dementia.
The autopsies found the most extensive brain damage in the professional athletes who died after age 50. They experienced the most severe memory loss and personality changes in their final years.
The football players included National Football League (NFL) Hall of Famers running back Ollie Matson and Colts tight end John Mackey. Both died last year after suffering from dementia.
The researchers also described the four stages of CTE. In the first stage, the injured individual experiences headaches and trouble concentrating. Symptoms progress to depression, aggression and short-term memory loss, followed by serious cognitive impairment and dementia.
Last spring, more than 3,000 former players filed a lawsuit against the National Football League, claiming the league hid information about football-related head injuries. The NFL claims the head injury lawsuits have no merit and asked a federal court in Philadelphia to dismiss more than 100 injury claims, saying they should be resolved through the NFL’s collective bargaining process rather than the courts.
Many states, including Massachusetts, have also implemented laws in recent years which mandate concussion training for high school athletes and provide rules for how long students must sit out after a head injury.
The research was reported in the journal Brain.
Boston researcers find new evidence linking concussions to permanent brain injury, The Boston Globe.
Evidence of brain damage from repeat concussions mounts, The Boston Globe.
BU-Led Research Maps the Route to Dementia, BU Today.