Football is a great American pastime and it is especially important to the Redding community. As we continue to meet every year to watch Shasta take on Enterprise in the River Bowl, it is important for us to take note of recent medical data that shows football related brain injuries on the rise.

IAs research uncovers findings that make the danger more real to the public, the talk about the serious implications of repetitive head trauma has been making waves all the way to the White House and the Congress. Just a few months ago, President Obama, who is a devout football fan said in an interview that: “if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.”

The NFL, as the leading franchise for US pro football, has been having its own related problems. With football being such a popular high-impact contact sport, the NFL has had more than its share of player injuries. In the recently concluded 2012-2013 season alone, more than 160 players went down with head injuries.

As of this date, there have been at least 80 lawsuits filed against the NFL by over 3800 football players, all of whom are seeking for damages over head injuries sustained while playing. The family of former star linebacker Junior Seau even filed for a wrongful death lawsuit in January of this year, claiming that his suicide in May 2012 was caused by head trauma sustained over more than 20 seasons of playing in the league.
Junior Seau, like dozens of professional athletes before him, have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is triggered by repeated head trauma and is linked to dementia, memory loss and depression. Until recently, CTE can only be diagnosed after death as it can only be identified after brain autopsy.

However, UCLA neuroscience researchers were able to come up with a patented brain imaging tool that allows the detection of tau proteins in living subjects’ brains. Tau is an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells and contributes to their death. The UCLA study examined the brains of five former NFL players, and all tested positive for tau formation in key areas controlling memory, emotions, and other functions.

Surprisingly, wearing a helmet does not really do much to prevent potentially serious injuries like concussions; if they did, athletes who could afford top-of-the-line equipment would have nothing to worry about. Dr Jeffrey Kutcher, from the University of Michigan’s neurology department, explains that while helmets certainly prevent skull fractures, its design does not really allow it to significantly slow down the contents of the skull during the moment of impact, and thus, cannot effectively reduce probability of concussions.
While millions of dollars is being spent on developing superior protective gear, what ultimately needs to be improved is the general attitude towards sports safety. The CDC recommends that parents, athletes and coaches should be correctly educated about the dangers of head injuries, especially on its long-term implications. No athlete should be allowed to play until after a comprehensive physical examination to verify their health condition. Every sports program should include a comprehensive head injury action plan, with emphasis on prevention, early identification, and provisions for immediate medical attention.