The above public service announcement aired during the Jets-Bengals playoff game on Saturday, possibly unnoticed by football fans anxious to continue cheering their teams. But some fans saw, in this simple announcement, the culmination of a dramatic story that has been building on the sidelines.

Throughout this football season, growing concerns about traumatic brain injury have shaken the complacency of football fans and players, forcing them to rethink the game they love. As reported in The New York Times, each tackle, each collision of players even in practice, may cause a traumatic brain injury that could have dire consequences — cognitive damage, even dementia. The danger comes from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and has been exacerbated by team doctors and coaches who have sometimes urged players right back on the field.

After a hearing on the issue before Congress, California Rep. Linda Sanchez told The New York Times: “Young people believe they’re invincible already. To have somebody involved with the N.F.L. not acknowledge common-sense information, young people will think nothing will happen to them. That’s such a disservice to young athletes who are known to be at greater risk.”

In November, our Diane Vacca covered the congressional hearing, including an intensive profile and exclusive footage of Gay Culverhouse’s testimony. Culverhouse, daughter of a former owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, grew up in the world of football and has seen the costs it exacts from its players:

“Shocked” by the deteriorating health of her former players and their inability to receive disability compensation, Culverhouse is finishing a book, Violence: The Underbelly of the NFL, about these experiences. The retired players “walk through our lives looking like old men crippled by arthritis and, in some cases, dementia. My men have headaches that never stop. They cannot remember where they are going or what they want to say without writing it down. Some are on government welfare. Some are addicted to pain medications. Some are dead.” In the case of a head injury, the player “is told to ‘shake it off,’” she said.

WVFC has continued to monitor news coverage about CTE and the NFL on our Facebook page. At this point, it is difficult to know how the game of football will change. Redesigned helmets? Different tackling rules? No helmets at all?

One thing is clear: Sanchez, Culverhouse and other women have been at the forefront with their deep knowledge and articulate, concerned voices. And change has already begun.

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  • Blythe January 10, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    I wondered for years why the NFL hasn’t stepped up at least in the construction of the helmet. Another thing that bothers me about the NFL is the lack of support for retired players. Great post