Mounting evidence for link between playing injuries and brain damage stirs debate


SUPERBOWL XLVII COUNTDOWN:President Obama and Baltimore safety Pollard create stir over comments

It has become a staple of Super Bowl week, as much a part of the pregame to the NFL’s biggest event as the annual media day: a discussion of how football is being affected by head injuries and the mounting evidence that long-term brain damage can be linked to injuries sustained on the field.

This week, Bernard Pollard, a hard-hitting safety for the Baltimore Ravens, created a stir by saying the NFL would not exist in 30 years because of the rules changes designed with safety in mind, but that he also believed there would be a death on the field at some point.

At a Super Bowl media day recently, players reacted to the comments made by Pollard and President Obama, who recently said the way football is played would have to change, with some agreeing with Pollard that recent rules changes would change the sport to such an extent it would be less entertaining and less popular.

Pollard stood by his comments. He added, however, that while he was comfortable with the physical risk he was taking by playing football, he was not sure he would want future generations, including his four-year-old son, to follow his example.

“My whole stance right now is that I don’t want him to play football,” Pollard said. “Football has been good to me. It has been my outlet. God has blessed me with a tremendous talent to be able to play this game. But we want our kids to have things better than us.”

No one is exempt

“You keep playing football, you’re going to have your injuries, no one is exempt from that,” he said. “You’re going to have concussions. You’re going to have broken bones. That’s going to happen. But I think for the most part, we know what we signed up for.”

The sentiment was echoed by Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.

“I play the game and I understand that I’m going to get hit,” Flacco said. “Just because they fine the guys is not going to stop them from hitting me. I find it tough to fine people who are doing their job.”

In a recent interview with The New Republic, Obama expressed concern about on-field injuries, though he added that NFL players were grown men who are “well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies”.

The president added: “I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”

Lawsuit against the league

While many current players seem focused on rules changes and how they will affect the nature of the game, more than 4,000 former NFL players have filed a lawsuit against the league, contending it knew hits to the head could lead to long-term brain damage but did not share that information with players. The judge in the case said on Tuesday she would hear oral arguments on April 9th regarding the league’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The family of Junior Seau, a former star linebacker who shot and killed himself last year, has also sued the NFL, for failing to inform players about the risks of brain injury.

Pollard’s counterparts on the San Francisco 49ers, safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, considered one of the hardest-hitting tandems in the NFL, thought the key was not removing big hits, but making sure the hits are legal.

“You can be vicious and you can hit people hard, but do it the right way,” Whitner said. “For the most part, you know what you can and cannot do. Do you want to go out there and do the right things or do you want to make that big hit to gain a big name? That’s what it comes down to.”

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said the topic was so personal for Pollard because he is a defensive back, one of the positions most affected by the efforts to increase player safety.

Tough position

“I think Bernard is frustrated because he plays a tough position where it’s a bang-bang play and he’s getting fined,” Yanda said. “That’s a tough deal as far as him playing football his whole life knowing how to play one way and then all of a sudden you have to change.”

One of the few people to disagree with Pollard’s view that skewing the rules to protect offensive players would harm the league was Warren Sapp, a retired defensive tackle who oncewent by the Twitter handle (AT)QBKilla. He said a desire for points would always result in defences being limited.

“They like points,” Sapp said. “I like it too. You’re going to have to make some key stops here and there but it’s an offensive game, no doubt about it.”

New York Times

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