How concussions are currently affecting the NFL

It’s football season, and as fans gear up to watch their favorite players and root for their favorite team, no one is noticing any major…

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How concussions are currently affecting the NFL

The issue of concussions in the NFL is not going away. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

It’s football season, and as fans gear up to watch their favorite players and root for their favorite team, no one is noticing any major changes with America’s favorite sport. There is something that’s different, however, and it has nothing to do with how football is played, but everything to do with the players in the game.

The change in 2014’s football season has to do with concussion awareness.

While head injuries are nothing new in the NFL, studies over the last several years as well as the untimely deaths of professional athletes have made the dangers of concussions a national concern. In 2013 the NFL created a concussion investigation panel to demonstrate the seriousness of this issue in the sport.

SEE ALSO: NFL and NIH research teams aim to take on concussion research

So what has happened since then? Well, the investigation in on-going and data seems to be coming out every week if not every day. The most recent study data was released this month from the Analysis Research and Planning Corporation, and it showed approximately 30 percent of former NFL players will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s as they age due to traumatic brain injury.

“This report paints a startling picture of how prevalent neurocognitive diseases are among retired NFL players, and underscores why class members should immediately register for this settlement’s benefits,” read a statement from Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss, the lead counsel for the retired player plaintiffs in a current concussion lawsuit against the NFL.

But former players aren’t the only ones we should be worried about. This week the NFL reported Cincinnati Bengals’ player Vontaze Burfict missed practice due to a second concussion in a 7-day period. Arizona Cardinals’ John Abraham is also on the sidelines–even contemplating retirement–after suffering a concussion during the first week of the season.

And football is just starting. During the following months there will undoubtedly be more reports of head injuries mixed in with the other physical issues players in a full-contact sport suffer.

Why are concussions such a concern?

Concussions have always been considered a serious medical issue, but until recent years the focus was on the event when it happened, not what might occur years down the road. Now research tells us abnormal brain wave activity from a concussion can happen for years after the actual injury, and individuals can have permanent issues such as disrupted motor function, memory loss, cognitive impairment, and even death.

Dr. Maryse Lassonde, a neuropsychologist and the scientific director of the Quebec Nature and Technologies Granting Agency did a study on sports concussions in 2013 and found many players who sustain head injuries often experience Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms down the road from destroyed nerve paths. She also found players who return to sports too soon from a concussion and then suffer another one significantly heighten their risk of serious brain damage.

“If a child or any player has a concussion, they should be kept away from playing or doing any mental exercise until their symptoms abate. Concussions should not be taken lightly. We should really also follow former players in clinical settings to make sure they are not aging prematurely in terms of cognition,” Lassonde said as reported by MNT.

SEE ALSO: Dan Marino withdraws a concussion lawsuit against the NFL

The exact repercussions of multiple concussions during life are not yet fully known, and the Sports Concussion Institute states: “Long term effects of multiple concussions are currently being studied by researchers around the globe. Not only can multiple traumatic incidents contribute to the development of mild cognitive impairments (MCI’s), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and other adverse outcomes, but a storied concussion history can also cause post-concussion syndrome (PCS).

While we are still elucidating the causes of these long term effects, it is imperative that a person fully recover from one concussion before risking a subsequent one. Failing to do so adequately can lead to additional neurologic damage. Given this new understanding, managing concussions requires specialized, comprehensive and state-of-the-art approaches.”

Until more research on the dangers of concussions is made public, the NFL will carry on as it always has, perhaps implementing more protective policies or creating more public relations programs to demonstrate they acknowledge the threat. The risk remains, however, and as more and more football concussions are making the news, more people are voicing concern over the athletes they have come to think of as extended family.