Question of the Week

December 23, 2002


Injuries are a major issue in the world of football. Whether it is the "career ending" concussion suffered by a promising high school student, or the injuries that affect the daily lives of those who play (or have played) the sport professionally, it seems to make the news. Many of the most recent injuries to the professional players can be found at:

Some examples updated this past weekend include minor injuries: "Kwamie Lassiter: Dislocated finger...He's expected to miss just a day or two of practice....Freddie Jones: Bruised back...He should also miss just a day or two of practice." As well as injuries that are more serious: "Chandler suffered his fifth concussion in the last six seasons and is likely done for the year....Bulger may have a herniated disk between the shoulder blades as the result of a brutal first-quarter sack just four plays into the game."

The story that typically makes the evening news is how this will affect the team. Occasionally, mention is made of how this will affect the professional future of the player. Rarely, mention is made of how these injuries will affect the health of the players beyond their professional careers. The health of the player is not news; how the health of the player affects the team is news.

"Many former players are left questioning just how fortunate they were to have played the sport that once made them so competitive on the playing field, not to mention famous in millions of households across America. The career of an athlete can range anywhere from one to fifteen or even twenty years in some cases, but regardless of how long an athlete has played their sport, there are likely to be scars reminding them of the price they paid for fame. Many of these individuals have aged physically and mentally well beyond what is expected for an individual at mid-life. As many of these retired players move into their later years, they are faced with dementia, severe arthritis, and nutritional/ dietary problems that change their lives forever."

What price are these athletes paying for their fame and our entertainment?

"During the past year, the lay press has been filled with woeful tales of the post-career lives of several professional football players. Among them is the September death at age 50 of 'Iron Mike' Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steeler who sustained brain damage from a career's worth of concussions. The cause of his death was undisclosed. Beyond the incidences of early death, there are quality-of-life-diminishing injuries among many former football players -- crippling joint damage that sometimes leads to replacement at a young age, chronic pain from arthritis, back problems, nerve damage and the long-term impact of repeated blows to the head."

We see few of these players after the completion of their careers. Boys who want to grow-up and be professional football players do not see the futures that these players sacrificed for their time in the spotlight with the big paychecks. Football is not the only profession where people sacrifice their health to make a living, but those in other potentially dangerous (non-sports-related) professions do not usually make the front page. When the risks are not overshadowed by the fame and glory, it can be more difficult to mentally push them aside.

Questions of the Week:
So, whose responsibility is it to offer a reality check to the boys who aspire to this greatness they see in football? Should the same media that places these players in a position to be idolized also make a point to share the physical and mental toll the sport can take? Should the coaches who push and encourage the players balance their enthusiasm with the hard reality of the damage that can be done to these young bodies? Would it matter? Would the reality of future affect the hopes and dreams of young players? Should it?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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