NFL Players Deserve Government Protection Too

 Football is proven to be dangerous to an athlete’s health. Why isn’t it regulated?

Our government – both state and federal – has countless laws and regulations designed to keep citizens safe and healthy. From safety standards on the foods we eat and the cars we drive to laws governing workers in coal mines or those who handle hazardous materials like asbestos or formaldehyde.

But there is one obvious health hazard the government has shied away from regulating.

It is the danger inherent in contact sports – like hockey, soccer, rugby and, especially, football — that has been shown to cause a type of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE in huge numbers of athletes.

This debilitating disease is caused by repeated blows to the head and it, literally, clogs the brain’s crucial pathways with a protein that results in extreme behavior changes like mood swings, memory loss, confusion, a aggressive rages, depression, anxiety and, in some cases, suicide have been reported.

To my mind there is no bigger culprit than the National Football League. The NFL has spent decades marketing and glorifying the game as the king of sports, an activity that all red-blooded American kids should embrace and emulate. Through its skillful cultivation of fans, the league insures generations of future devotees.

As we enter another football season the NFL is on track to rake in $14 billion this year. Fanatic fascination with football and the NFL’s massive financial sway have helped protect the league from outside interference. Even though we live in a time when Uncle Sam seeks to regulate all manner of our daily lives this lucrative league with its all-too-willing players continues to dodge the regulation bullet.

Helmets Don’t Stop the Brain From Pounding Inside the Skull & Injuring Neck

I’ve never been for more government interference but I dare say if any other industry put its employees at such proven risk lawmakers would be racing to introduce new laws. There is no doubt football is dangerous to a player’s health.

Scientists at Boston University’s School of Medicine have now conducted two major CTE studies which should send a shudder down the spine of every parent with a kid who wants to play football.

Most recently a team led by Dr. Ann McKee examined 111 donated brains from deceased NFL football players. (CTE can only be diagnosed during autopsy) They found only one brain was CTE free. Think about that. 110 of 111 who participated in this head butting, bone jarring career left the game in a mentally disabled state.

“We’re seeing this [CTE] in a very large number that participated in football for many years,” said Dr. McKee said.  “While we don’t know the exact risk and we don’t know the exact number, we know this is a problem in football.”

I’d say that’s an understatement.

In the most recent study, McKee’s team examined a total of 202 brains from football players from all levels of the game. The conclusion was stunning even for those who only played in school.

Nearly 88% of all the brains examined had CTE. 3 of 14 donors who had played football only in high school had the disease. An astounding 48 of the 53 college players had CTE riddled brains. The disease had also struck 9 of 14 semi-pro players and 7 of 8 Canadian Football League players.

McKee’s team reached a similar finding in a 2015 study. Back then, the brains of 91 former NFL players were examined and 87 were afflicted with CTE. After that study was made public even the NFL’s top health and safety official admitted to congress that CTE and professional football go hand-in-hand.

Dr. McKee’s conclusion, “This disease is much more common than we previously realized.” Yet we have left it to the very industry that creates these tragic cases to police itself? Really.

A federal court established and is overseeing a billion-dollar NFL fund to help players who prove the game caused a wide range of afflictions. In addition to covering damages due to CTE the league has agreed to compensate for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia or A.L.S.

This further proves my point. Any profession that causes that many serious health issues should not be allowed to operate without some sort of outside oversight.

The NFL now proclaims it is committed to protecting players and to “create a healthier experience for athletes” but science proves that over the years the mega-lucrative league has done a lousy job. The deadline for a player to sign up for possible compensation under the so-called Concussion Fund was last month. So far,12thousand NFL players have registered, most still waiting for their medical evaluation. Only two have received settlements.

To be fair, the NFL has instituted a few rules changes designed to make the game safer. Adding more safety rules might make for a less exciting game but I wonder at what cost do we allow the status quo to continue? What about incoming players not covered by the Concussion Fund?

Don’t football players deserve workplace protection as much as coal miners?###



  1. Diane Dimond on September 18, 2017 at 7:52 am

    ABQ Journal reader Ted Janutz writes:


    Thank you for doing the research for your in-depth article and for sharing your valuable insights. And for keeping the community informed.

    Here are two additional resources on the topic you might find interesting:

    About CTE: An interview with Cyndy Feasel, author of After the Cheering Stops

    What happens inside the helmet of a ten-year-old football player:

    Keep up your GREAT work!

    Ted Janusz

  2. Diane Dimond on September 18, 2017 at 7:55 am

    Ms. Dimond:

    I read with interest your article “NFL continues to dodge the regulation bullet.”

    I think you may be interested in a new non-contact alternative to tackle football. I designed this new sport, Clermont Rules Football, as a potential replacement for tackle football, not as a gateway sport to that game. CRF is for male and female athletes of all ages. Players must acquire a large, complex skill set, build stamina, and learn team play. CRF is not a variant of touch or flag football.

    In your article, you say, “More safety rules might make for a less exciting game.” I have designed CRF to be more fun to play and more interesting to watch than tackle football. CRF is fast and intricate, with almost non-stop play. CRF fills the air with passes and kicks – but it may not appeal to most fans who love smashmouth action. Time will tell.

    I have been promoting CRF via social media and email for several weeks. I intend to put the game on the field within the next few months.

    I describe CRF at Daniel P. Finney of the Des Moines Register wrote about the game a few days ago:

    I welcome your comments.

    Best wishes,

    Jay Myers

  3. Diane Dimond on September 18, 2017 at 7:56 am

    Reader Richard St. John writes:

    Dear Ms. Dimond,
    Thank you for your many fine articles.

    I love professional football and usually watch at least one game a week during the season. But I hate to say it, I must agree with you about the prevalence of CTE in football players, and that something must be done about it. Unfortunately, as you point out, there are many reasons the problem is ignored by our society. One important rationale is football, as well as other major sports, is one of the few ways for social and economic advancement available to many of our citizens. Two further examples follow of which I am guilty:

    A promising collegiate star (I can’t remember his name) was selected in the NFL draft, but decided to end his football career and not play professionally; he cited CTE as the root reason for his departure. I was disappointed I couldn’t see him play.

    During a game, I know the players are incrementally damaging their brains and personalities. All I do is feel guilty they are destroying themselves for my entertainment, but nothing beyond guilt.
    You reference many studies showing the high probability of CTE present in football players, even those who have played relatively little. These numbers are well publicized, but it bothers me there are so few studies or references to the occurrence of CTE in the general population. I have no doubt it’s higher in football players, but what is it in those who haven’t played? If it’s 97 out of a 100 brains showing CTE in players, but 90 out of a 100 otherwise, that’s not such a big deal. If it’s 5 out of a 100 otherwise, that is a tremendously significant difference. I am sure the pervasiveness of CTE in the general population will seep into the news eventually, but I have seen only one study, versus 10 or 15 studies with athletes.

    Richard St. John

  4. Diane Dimond on September 18, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Facebook Friend Kenneth R Martin writes:

    Compare this to NASCAR. After the death of just one of their drivers, safety improved dramatically when it comes to head and neck injuries,

  5. Diane Dimond on September 18, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Facebook Friend Alan Fountain write:

    It’s in the DNA we are only centuries away from the blood baths of the Roman Gladiator sports. When you combine the irrational nature of male testosterone with money it is a lobbyist dream client to protect. The perfect formula to allow trickle down insanity from legislators incentives from campaign donations to turn their heads. We are such a weak species that allows even the weaker to be our politicians. With freedom and capitalism comes abuses of powers. It is up to all people to regulate their own bodies or suffer the consequences. The only way mass opinion might effect change if the costs of crisis effected the public but it is a volunteer victim for hire bad decision. Greed is suppose to hurt.

  6. Diane Dimond on September 18, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Facebook Friend Carmen Matthews writes:

    Not only from those injuries, but also from the treatment centers that claim to be here for them.

Leave a Comment