Playing sports is fun, and at best it can lead to scholarships, huge salaries, and lucrative endorsement deals—not to mention the thrill of the game itself. But it’s also demanding, and in most contact sports, sports injuries and the long-term impact of brain damage are just beginning to be understood.
Contact sports injuries and brain damage
We know intuitively that a blow to the head can cause brain damage, but sports leagues have been reluctant to investigate the long-term effects of sports injuries.
In 1928, Dr. Harrison Martland coined the phrase “punch drunk syndrome” to describe boxers who had taken a few too many blows to the head. It took almost 80 years, until 2005, before CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was described by Dr. Bennet Omalu.
Medical science can now identify CTE—and define what causes it. Unfortunately, sports leagues have been slow to respond.
Raising awareness of CTE
Legendary sports agent Lee Steinberg has become a passionate advocate for athletes who suffer from sports-related CTE. Having guided the careers of some of the biggest names in the NFL, he has developed an understanding of how player egos and the games dynamic perpetuate the kind of on-field violence that causes CTE.
But he, along with a growing chorus of other luminaries, has been warning that unless pro sports addresses the problem, people are going to continue to be hurt and the game is going to suffer in the long term.
It’s not just pro athletes
CTE doesn’t just affect pro athletes. Former college-level athletes have also developed CTE, leading to numerous lawsuits against the NCAA.
There’s also evidence of CTE resulting from high-school level play—and even younger. A 2015 study by the Mayo Clinic showed that one-third of the brains of individuals who played contact sports in high school showed CTE, compared to none in the non-athlete population.
Leagues aren’t responding fast enough
Finally, leagues at all levels attempt to reduce the severity of the sports injuries that cause CTE and other brain damage. But progress is far too slow. While lawsuits work their way through the system, these suits have also been hesitant to blame too much on the sport or accept too much responsibility.
Safer equipment and better concussion protocols are a great start. But for the most dangerous contact sports, it’s going to take more. Reducing the football injuries that cause brain damage, for example, requires making the culture of football less violent.
It’s easy to say, “protect the kids against head injuries.” But without a culture change that’s not going to stop coaches from pushing their players to hit hard and win the game.
Compensation for those with brain injuries
Unfortunately, the slow rate of change in sports leagues leaves athletes at risk of experiencing brain-damaging sports injuries. Without any changes, we’re likely to continue seeing tragic stories, like the recent New York Times report documenting CTE cases among members of the dominant Alabama football teams of the 1960s.
As current lawsuits against the NCAA, NFL, and others work their way through the courts, compensation is becoming available to those suffering from the effects of sports injuries.
If you believe you or someone close to you is suffering from brain damage as a result of playing sports, speak to a qualified attorney to understand the compensation that is available and the class-action cases already underway.
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