Millions watched as the St. Louis Rams faced off against the Baltimore Ravens in what served as a showcase for the health drawbacks of repeated hits endured by football players throughout the season. Rams quarterback Case Keenum dropped back to pass in the fourth quarter before being slammed to the ground by a Raven defender. Moments later, as teammates tried to help their quarterback up off the ground, Keenum appeared visibly dizzy and unable to get to his feet. Obvious to everyone watching, Keenum had suffered a severe concussion. However, Keenum remained in the game for the remainder of the fourth quarter. The NFL has protocols for players with concussions, but all those protocols failed to protect the player from himself, knowing that exiting the game would be squandering an opportunity to prove that he can be a professional football player, something he has undoubtedly dreamed of since being a kid.
With social media highlighting player injuries more than ever, and a new movie being released next month starring Will Smith about the beginnings of concussion research, the issue is in the spotlight more than ever. So the question remains: how damaging are concussions?
One study conducted by Johns Hopkins University recruited nine former NFL players ranging in age from 50-80, with the same number of control people who never played football or sustained any head trauma. The researchers conducted brain scans of several types, as well as memory tests on the 18 subjects. The study found that not only did the players have serious abnormalities in their brains, they also suffered from having a worse memory than the control subjects.
Several other studies have been conducted to find similar alarming results, however, the research into the science behind concussions and how to better treat/prevent them is low. As Phd Paul Comper puts it, “despite the proliferation of neuropsychological research on sports-related concussion over the past decade, the methodological quality of studies appears to be highly variable, with many lacking proper scientific rigour.” Concussion research is not nearly at the levels it needs to be to match the seriousness of the injury.
This is an example of a scientific topic not having enough research to be definitively understood, which is something that leads to harmful consequences for athletes.