By Debbie Gregory.
Professional athletes are sometimes compared to warriors. Golden voiced commentators describe the field of play, likening the arenas and stadiums to battlefields, and the players as highly motivated soldiers in armies intent on total domination. No sport is referred to in this manner more than professional football. Athletes who play in the National Football League (NFL), more than any other pro athletes, are conditioned and trained like soldiers. Football players will even blacken their faces with “war-paint” and refer to the playing of their game as “going to war.”
While much can be written as to how football is just a game, and is nothing compared to actual warfare, it is sufficient to say that the two have little else in common. But athletes and military personnel both suffer from one key problem; both are at high risk of suffering traumatic brain injuries (TBI) such as concussions. Both the military and the NFL have had many of their personnel afflicted by TBI, and have come under fire from outside organizations for their lack of knowledge, including prevention, detection and treatment of these injuries.
For three years, the U.S. Armed Forces has maintained an alliance with the NFL to combat TBI. The two entities have been cooperating to develop technologies that can help detect TBIs as they happen. The early detection of brain injuries, such as concussions, could significantly improve the treatment.
TBI has accounted for approximately 20% of all injuries sustained by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, making it among the most common injuries among Gulf War Veterans. And the NFL’s ongoing struggle with TBI has been heavily publicized. Several former players have initiated complaints against the NFL, through their players union, regarding previous methods of TBI prevention, detection and treatment.
As a result of the firestorm that the NFL came under, there have been many changes to the how the NFL handles TBI, including how the game is played. There have been several rule changes that are direct result to TBI. Kick-offs were moved to the 35 yard line, reducing the number of kickoffs returned per game, and the amount of injuries occurred during kickoffs. Defensive players have been receiving a drastically increasing number of penalties and fines for hits to other players’ helmets. And players who are suspected of possibly sustaining a TBI on a play must be cleared by NFL doctors, not team doctors, before they can take the field again.
Government funded scientists and military doctors, with the cooperation of the NFL, have been developing a sensor that U.S. service members and NFL football players can wear inside their helmets, designed to detect TBIs as they occur. The sensors are about the size of a wristwatch, and have been placed in helmets, on their torsos, and in military vehicles. The sensors measure overpressure and acceleration forces in an effort to detect TBI. Readings from the sensors will inform military doctors the precise risk a service member would be at for TBI after an incident.
With such efforts being made to combat TBI on the battlefield and the field of play, perhaps a better understanding of TBI can be reached. And prevention and detection will be made much easier.