Killing Yourself to Victory


Every fall, hundreds of thousands of people strap on a helmet and shoulder pads and play the great game of Football, but at what cost?  Doctors who have recently studied the brain of a former great, Junior Seau, have found a disturbing trend that has become all too common among football players.  Seau committed suicide in the spring and a posthumous exam found traces of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E., a common link found in 33 of 34 ex-football players who have also taken their lives early.

C.T.E. isn’t a risk associated exclusively to football, but rather any sport with exposure to “repetitive head injury.”  Sports like Rugby, Hockey, and Lacrosse are all equally at risk, yet information regarding player suicides is not as readily available.  What can be certain, however, is there is a common trend and link between suicide and the existence of C.T.E.  The problem with C.T.E. is that it can only be discovered after death, ending the possibility to preempt any damages.  Although there is no way to determine if C.T.E. exists, the knowledge that it is unequivocally linked to the suicides of players who experienced repetitive head injuries is shocking.

Now why is this an international issue one might ask?  Now that the public is aware of the link between C.T.E. and suicide, is it negligent to allow millions of people worldwide participate in a game that could lead to them ending their lives without giving them more information about the consequences?  Are the governing bodies of the various sports leagues going to be held liable for allowing their respective games to subject its participants to repetitive head trauma?  Are the players assuming the risk or are they not aware of the potential consequences of their actions?

It is clear that sports like Football have a problem on their hands and now that there is knowledge of a link between head trauma and suicide there must be a duty to warn and inform participants of the potential long-term effects.

Source:  New York Times

Picture obtain from :


  1. This is truly a troubling phenomenon; however, I have a hard time seeing what can realistically be done about it. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry, an all out campaign warning people about the dangers of the game and discouraging them from playing would not be good for business. I do not believe Roger Goodell would ever support something like that. How could he? One possible consequence could be that it would alarm too many parents who would not allow their kids to start playing Pop Warner. This would eventually deplete the talent pool and the league would suffer. Some may argue that would be a good thing since less people would be risking long term debilitating injuries; however, there are many people who depend on the success of the NFL for their livelihood. If the league suffers, they suffer. It is important to note that the NFL is not simply turning a blind eye to these reports. The league has instituted a number of safety measures in recent years including preventative measures liked improved safety equipment and mandatory time off after a concussion. There has also been a push to require retirement after a certain number of concussions. This is a sticky question with no simple answer. As I mentioned before, short of implementing and thoroughly enforcing effective safety measures, I have a hard time seeing what else the league would be willing to do.

  2. I do not think these various sports organizations can be held liable for the decision of an individual to enter professional sports. Even prior to finding a link between C.T.E. and suicide, athletes knew there were risks involved with their chosen profession. Now, this is another factor they must consider before “entering the draft,” for lack of a better phrase.

    What I do think organizations like the NFL and NHL should be responsible for is researching ways to mitigate, prevent, diagnose, and control diseases like C.T.E. and other injuries common with the sports. Because these organizations are the least cost avoider, it should be their responsibility to come up with ways to keep players safe so as to prevent sports from suffering from a depleted talent pool, as Joe pointed out.

    I think another way sports organizations can help athletes, prior to entering the pros, is to create programs to educate kids about how to play safe and programs to educate parents about the risks associated with injuries. Teaching kids and teens how to play a sport safely is a great way to create an atmosphere in professional sports that the biggest hits are not necessarily the best. Having the importance of safe play brought to the attention of the parents will also provide another layer of reinforcement to young athletes that playing safe is just as important as playing physical.

  3. Granted, there are many risks associated with playing football including the well-documented head trauma. However, as Joe mentioned, the National Football League has taken many steps to try and address this serious issue. They have developed new helmets, instituted new rules that address hits to the head and protecting defenseless receivers, in addition to implementing new programs directed towards players safety and teaching proper form and safe play at the Pop Warner and high school levels. Further, they have really revamped their concussion protocol to try and ensure that players are not playing with concussions. I believe the NFL and Commissioner Goodell have been very proactive in this regard. However, despite these precautions, players still try and mask head injuries in fear of losing their job and being replaced, especially in a sport like football where there is such a high turnover rate with a short average playing career. At the end of the day, these men suit up to earn a living and accept the risks of playing the game and I do not believe that there is much more that can be done on the part of the NFL or any other sports leagues around the globe.

  4. My main problem with the NFL is that they are not doing everything possible to help stem the concussion problem. While I agree you cannot rid the sport of them completely without altering the integrity of the game, more can and should be done to prevent damage. Peter added that there are new helmets that are designed to help prevent concussions. Why are these not mandatory for EVERY player? I think it is hypocritical to say that you’re doing everything possible to help lower the chances of a concussion while not mandating that the helmets are a required piece of equipment. I remember playing in High School when the new “Revolution” helmets were created and they were expensive to buy so not every player had one. However in the multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL, a “concussion-reducing” (whatever that means) helmet should be as commonplace as a set of shoulder pads.

    Now, the players are not at fault here either as some players have resisted changes to their equipment for aesthetic reasons, most notably in MLB with David Wright and his bobble-head looking helmet. However, refusing to use a piece of equipment that reduces the chances of getting a concussion should effectively equate to assumption of the risk and they should be exempt from joining the various concussion related lawsuits that are pending, or might be filed in the future. Bottom line is I agree the NFL is a money making machine and concussions are a part of the game. But, with the technology available and the known harmful side-effects of concussions, both the NFL and Players are treading a fine line.

  5. The great news is that UCLA doctors and brain specialists have recently seen a breakthrough in CTE identification for living NFL players. While the results are preliminary and not definitive, it is a large step towards early diagnosis and treatment.

    I feel that there are a few different ways to look at this issue. The NFL should be doing all that it can to keep its’ employees safe. I agree with Dan in that every piece of the safest equipment should be mandatory for all players. I am sure that the bulky helmets worn today would not look so cool to the players who didn’t wear helmets at all decades ago, but they will adapt. This, along with comprehensive information distribution and league covered care is just about all they can do.

    After the league has done its’ part, the players are then assuming the risk. I feel that most, if not all players understand the dangers of the game. However, with potential salaries in the millions of dollars, players gladly assume the risk of head trauma for a high reward. I do not think the willingness of players to play in the NFL will change much, if at all, but the league can do whatever it can to protect its’ players, for the common good and for its’ own integrity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *