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NFL Concussion Settlement Emphasizes Need for Better Brain Injury Prevention and Analysis

Monday, April 27, 2015


In the ongoing legal battle between over 5,000 former National Football Players and the league itself, a federal district court judge gave final approval to a settlement on Wednesday that will provide payments of up to $5 million for each player who suffers from a neurological disorder as well as medical monitoring for all players to determine when and if they qualify. The settlement, which Judge Anita Brody qualified as “fair, reasonable, and adequate,” will also provide an Education Fund that will “educate Class Members regarding the NFL Parties’ existing CBA Medical and Disability Benefits programs, and promote safety and injury prevention for football players of all ages, including youth football players.” 

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and the science behind them are not revolutionary, per se, however public awareness of how serious they are only grew recently with more open discussion about military veteran health (in relation to PTSD, for example). Parents have also become more informed about the long-term impact of brain injuries in sports and consequently keeping their kids out of football. TBI is a serious public health problem in the United States, each year contributing to the death or permanent injury of thousands of Americans. It is estimated that roughly 2.5 million TBIs occur each year, caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that over the past decade, TBI-related emergency visits have increased by 70%. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine hosted a press conference on the epidemiology of head injury in professional football based on specific evidence recovered from TBIs suffered during play. Doctors recommended that there should be more research conducted with state-of-the-art machines (such as MRI and PET studies) to determine the rate of neuropsychiatric disorders by age and the relationship between these disorders and cumulative exposure to sub-concussive impacts sustained across a player’s career. The settlement sets aside $75 million for a Baseline Assessment Program (BAP) that provides retired players with an opportunity to be tested for cognitive decline (any of which who has played at least half of an eligible season can receive an examination, even if he hasn’t yet developed any adverse symptoms or qualifying diagnosis). 

Remember Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs who murdered his girlfriend, kissed her corpse, and then committed suicide in front of the Chiefs’ GM? Belcher is a prime example of why the BAP is imperative to addressing not only the physical disabilities of brain injuries in the NFL, but the psychoactive symptoms as well. But Belcher, a starting linebacker, was only 25-years-old and nowhere near retirement. At autopsy, his brain showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), meaning that he was already suffering from a degenerative neurological condition included in the settlement. CTE causes dementia, aggression, confusion, and depression in people who have suffered repeated head trauma. As is the case with any litigious matter, there’s always measure that could and should have been implemented, further proving that testing of athletes in particularly helmet-smashing positions should receive the same ongoing assessments while on the roster (and not just after an immediate concussion).    

According to the CDC’s Report to Congress of Traumatic Brain Injury Epidemiology and Rehabilitation, a TBI can result in health effects that vary in intensity, length, and clinical manifestation. Disturbed cognition is the “hallmark” symptom of TBI but the injury can also affect behavior, emotion, and motor function. Cognitive disturbances can develop into difficulties with memory, attention, learning, and coordination, and worse, secondary neurologic disorders. Teams, including the Seahawks, have their own assembly of prominent physicians to care for the players, and the NFL already has a protocol in place regarding concussions and return-to-participation, but that only addresses specific instances of obvious concussions rather than repetitive decline.  

For former players suffering as a result of repeated head trauma, this will at least provide some relief to them and their families in what has been a long overdue acknowledgment of the ugly truth about life after the NFL. Hopefully, this will also inspire the league to further research and develop rules and equipment that will mitigate the risk of these players ending up with crippling disabilities. There will always be the fans complaining about the institution of new rules (“What is this?! Flag football?!), which is obviously easy to say when they’re not the ones on field smashing each other around for our entertainment. Prevention is imperative not only to the health of these athletes, but the sustainability of a sport where more and more parents are refusing to let their kids participate in for entirely legitimate reasons. When the settlement regarding serious head injuries incurred in NFL play is 44 times longer in page length than the protocol on head, neck, and spine injuries published by the league, it’s time to pay more attention to these players’ well being on a regular basis. So let’s embrace the safe, football fans. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: 10 Tips to Finally Quit Smoking

Here are 10 tips to help you quit smoking. 

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Pick a Date

Pick a quit date and put it on your calendar in ink— this is the starting point to making your plan.  Pretty much all of the experts agree that picking a date is the most important first step.  The key is to pick a date that is no more than one month away — if it is too far out, you will either lose your will or rationalize your way into an extension, and if it is too soon i.e. the nefarious tomorrow, you will only fail for lack of planning.  Everything that follows should be set up to make that quit date a success.

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Be honest with yourself.  Admit that you are an addict.  Own up to the seriousness and the entirety of your addiction.  If you are lying to yourself about how strong your addiction is, you won’t properly prepare yourself for quitting.  Instead you’ll set yourself up for failure.  Pay attention to how much you truly smoke — write it down, and prepare yourself to move on.

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Write down your triggers.  One of the keys to successful quitting is to be thoroughly prepared for the things that set you off.  Do you always smoke when you drink?  Every time you have a stressful encounter with your partner do you smoke to calm down?  By cataloging the things that get you jonesing for a cigarette, you will be able to systematically prepare other options for handling those situations.

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Plan Ahead

Plan for your triggers.  When the urge strikes and is overwhelming, what will you do instead of bumming or buying cigarettes?  Take up knitting so you have something to do with your hands.  Keep carrot sticks with you so you have something to munch on.  Munch on sunflower seeds.  Have a friend you can call.  Take a walk. Make sure you always have something on hand that you can use to distract you until the urge passes (and trust that it will pass).   

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Watch the Clock

In the week leading up to your quit date, begin to break your habit by smoking by the clock instead of by situation.  Most smokers smoke during or after certain events: the first cigarette when you wake up, a cigarette on the drive to work, a cigarette after lunch, another before the conference call and so on.  For this week parcel out your cigarettes according to the clock.  For instance, allow yourself one cigarette every two hours beginning at 6:00 am.  Stick to this within 5 minutes on either side.  If you wake up at 6:06, you missed your first cigarette and have to wait until 8:00.  If you miss your noon cigarette you must wait until 2:00 and so on.  It is the habit of smoking, the mental association between your tasks and stressors and smoking that is the hardest to break.  Doing this gives you a head start.  

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Get Support

Get support. For some of you that may mean talking to your doctor about medication or using the patch.  For others that may mean using acupuncture and herbs.  For some of you it will mean all of the above.  Both methods have much higher success rates at producing quitters than if you quit on your own.  There are also support groups and hotlines that offer instant help when you need it most.  Here are a few places to start:


Call your doctor or find an acupuncturist so they can help you with your plan.

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Avoid Your Other Vices

Avoid alcohol, smoking pot and other situations that you associate with smoking for 4-6 weeks while the quitting is the most difficult.  This is a huge bummer, but it beats hanging out with smokers and willing

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Throw Away the Past

The night before you quit get rid of your cigarettes, ash trays and lighters.  You need to make it at least moderately difficult to smoke.  Quit carrying the cash you use to buy cigarettes.  Avoid the store you stop at for a candy bar and cigarettes.  Basically, put up as many obstacles as you can to smoking.

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Avoid Certain People

Avoid the people who trigger you (as much as possible).  If they are friends they will understand, and if they are jerks you should avoid them anyway.

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Treat Yourself

Give yourself rewards for quitting.  The most obvious is to take the money you would have spent on cigarettes and buy yourself a weekly or monthly celebratory treat.  Somedays this might be the only thing that keeps you going.


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