Our view: An inherently dangerous game

DKS Editors

Kent State running back Trayion Durham says that he was informed by Kent State of the risks of playing football, but only once, by a single speaker during his freshman year. Durham has since taken it upon himself to research the risks of the sport he has played since childhood and has decided that the risks do not outweigh his love of the game.

Durham, who sustained a somewhat mild concussion during a helmet-to-helmet collision last season, continues to suit up for the Flashes despite the fact that his numerous injuries have caused him anxiety about his future health.

Numerous studies have shown that football players systematically put themselves at greater risk for head injury than participants in any other sport. According to an NFL-funded study released last year by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, high school football players suffer concussions at a rate of 11.2 per 10,000 “athletic exposures.” The sport with the next-highest rate is lacrosse, with 6.9 concussions per 10,000 exposures.

The issue became highly publicized when in 2011, 75 former NFL players sued the league, claiming that the league had hidden information about the long-term effects of concussions from players since the earliest days of the league.

The NFL didn’t admit until 2010 that there are very real cumulative effects that result from repeated head injuries, and that concussions can lead to dementia, memory loss, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated brain trauma. CTE was famously linked to the suicide of former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson.

The risks of concussions are certainly much more documented now than they were three years ago, and the NFL has attempted to make changes to the game to make it less dangerous for players.

But football is mired in a culture that preaches a ultra-masculine ideal of resilience. For running backs, a position in which nearly every play ends with a tackle, it can mean playing through potential concussion-like symptoms for fear of getting benched or in order to prove one’s toughness.

It is rare to find a football player that says he regrets having played the sport because of the dangers. Durham says wants to keep playing football despite the very real risk.

Football is by design a violent sport that glamorizes collision. It’s part of the game, and no amount of rule changing can change that.

Unless players, coaches, and fans take head injuries seriously, unless players know that playing through concussions can do irreparable damage to their brains, and unless the very culture of football is changed, it will always be an inherently dangerous game.