The NFL season kicked off this month but with it, we return back to concussion season. Most people know of the controversy of the concussion cover-up in the NFL and how pro-players suffer long-term brain damage from concussions they suffered. There is increasing evidence that demonstrates long-term brain damage from prior concussions.
The NFL first recognized the problem of concussions in 1994 and formed the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. However, many felt there was little help derived from this. In 2002, a former Steelers center, Mike Webster, died at the age of 50. He suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He was the first identified of a host of other players suffering CTE. There are six former NFL players living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, nine have committed suicide, and an unknown number are living with CTE. What is even more frightening is the fact that 50% of players who have suffered a concussive blow do not show symptoms. It has been estimated a pro player will be hit with 900-1500 blows to the head every year. 1
In 2013, more than 4500 players sued the NFL for failing to warn of the dangers of concussion and rushing them back to play. Many of these players were suffering the sequalae of TBI. An agreement was reached outside of court for $765 million, agreeing to compensate victims, pay medical bills, and fund research. 2
“There is a rising incidence of concussions in high school athletes. We need to heed the lessons learned in the NFL.”
But why do most doctors need to care about what happens in the NFL? Because there is a rising incidence of concussions in high school athletes. We need to heed the lessons learned in the NFL and recognize the very real long-term dangers of head injuries. It has been theorized that it can be more devastating in teenagers, whose brains are still forming.
Last week, I saw a 16 year old for a sports physical. Upon taking his history, his mother told me that he suffered a concussion playing football last year. He is the star of his high school team. He stayed off the field for only a week. And he was allowed to return to play despite still exhibiting some symptoms. This is clearly unacceptable and goes against the medical guidelines. How many teens across the country are being returned to play before they have recovered?
We need to do better. The NFL showed us the devastating consequences of repeated brain trauma and concussions. Lives have been ruined. These former players are suffering terrible diseases and their lives are devastated. It was not something they were warned about when they signed up for the NFL. Many people excuse their injuries because of the large amounts of money they earn. No, it is unacceptable for any human being. While the NFL stepped up to compensate the victims, this is not enough. We need to prevent more victims.
These same players are role models for our nation’s youth, who want to grow up to be like them. We need to take a very tough stance on these young people when they enter our exam rooms. It doesn’t matter if their team will lose the championship game without them or their coach is hounding them to return to play. Our foremost goal is to protect their brains. More public education is needed and parents and coaches as well as healthcare workers all need to play a role. Are you ready to take a stand against TBI?
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Dr. Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, is a family physician in South River, New Jersey. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Sacred Heart Hospital, through Temple University and she was recognized as intern of the year. Over the course of her practice, Dr. Girgis has continued to earn awards and recognition from her peers and a variety of industry bodies, including: Patients’ Choice Award, 2011-2012, Compassionate Doctor Recognition, 2011-2012. Dr. Girgis’ primary goal as a physician remains ensuring that each of her patients receives the highest available standard of medical care.