Target: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
Goal: Increase research for a football helmet to lessen head trauma in players.
At all levels, the game of football puts its players at risk for head trauma. Concussions, one of the most common injuries sustained by professional players, are a prime example of this scarring trauma. It is not just professional players who incur them either; youth athletics have begun to see such a rise in related injuries that Congress is already in the process of passing legislation requiring coaches to remove players from games when they begin to experience concussion symptoms.
Does this even go far enough? Additional recent studies show that children who incur concussions can still feel the effects of them a year later. Many of those affected described feelings of “fatigue, headaches, forgetfulness and difficulty paying attention.” These are not problems that can be overcome with physical therapy or a training guide; these are permanent, long-term injuries, and they are occurring far too frequently and far too intensely.
Furthermore, these cases simply represent the levels of football that involve the least developed athletes delivering the least powerful collisions. The National Football League contains athletes who have been training their entire lives to play the game, and since the game involves hard hitting, they hit the hardest out of any players in the world. Not surprisingly, their players often end up worse for the wear.
A recent study indicated that, out of 35 brains donated by National Football League players, 34 showed signs of a frighteningly damaging brain disease: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is one of the leading causes of dementia. The study’s results came out shortly after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher took his own life and the life of his girlfriend, in a situation not believed to be concussion-related but not ruled out to be either. The study also cited recent suicides by former NFL players Terry Long and Andre Waters as being related to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
The biggest problem with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is that it is impossible for a doctor to diagnose the illness while the subject is alive. Therefore, it becomes necessary to limit the amount of force applied to the brain in order to save potential lives in the future. Safety measures have already begun being implemented during game play itself to aid prevention: fewer kick returns, higher penalties for hard hits, et cetera. But more needs to be done to ensure player safety.
In April of 2012, designer Michael Princip created a multi-layered, thickly padded helmet that increased air flow to the head to prevent impacts from causing concussions. Two years prior, in 2010, Princip was cited in a study about football helmet strength, decrying the fact that helmets traditionally have had just a single layer of inside padding. As a result of both his research and passion for his subject, Princip was able to come up with a product design that could potentially help save hundreds of players’ brains and keep them happy and coherent post-retirement.
And Princip is far from the only one passionate about making this change. Virginia Tech runs a helmet study every year that ranks the safest helmets studied on a five-star rating. The Riddell 360 helmet, the Rawlings Quantum Plus helmet, and the Riddell Revolution Speed helmet all scored a perfect five out of five stars on the rating. These are the kinds of studies that the NFL needs to examine, expand on, and learn from in order to create the safest helmet possible for its players.
No matter how much money or effort it takes, a change needs to come in the helmet industry. The current ones obviously aren’t working, and there are people out there passionate enough, smart enough, and creative enough to come up with legitimate solutions. The NFL needs to recognize these designers and help them through any means possible to come up with potential life preservers for their players.
Dear NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell,
Imagine waking up one day and realizing that you can’t recognize your son. Hell, imagine waking up one day and realizing that you can’t recognize yourself. Mental illnesses can have these effects, and they’re having these effects on football players far too much.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a disease that is very real, and has been very active in the minds of former NFL players. We know this because they’ve forced us to learn: CTE is not able to be diagnosed when the brain is active. The test results have had to be taken from the brains of deceased players, far too many of which have become deceased as a result of brain trauma-induced suicide. This needs to stop, and you have the power to help make it stop.
Currently, you are moving kickoffs up and increasing penalties and fines for hard hits. These are good, understandable measures to take. But they only represent a step toward the solution, not the solution itself. In order to nip this problem in the bud, the actual causation of the problem must be the target: head impact, itself.
There are researchers all over the country designing newer, better helmets that will reduce head impact and make football players safer. The NFL needs to become a part of this movement toward introducing such equipment that will reduce potential harm to its players. However much it takes should not matter; one cannot put a price on another human being’s life, and those may very well be the stakes if change is not made.
It is your duty to find and back one of the many, many passionate designers currently working on helmet projects aimed at keeping players’ heads safe. It is your responsibility, as the commissioner of the National Football League, to find someone that you believe can revolutionize the football helmet industry and support them however they need to be supported, in order to achieve the ideal product for your players. It can, and will, be a lifesaver in the long run. Make the right call, commissioner.
[Your Name Here]