Concussions in Football


Much has changed across the landscape of football in the last 20 years. Take a look at the roster for each of the NFL’s 32 teams and you’ll be unable to find a single player drafted before 1995. More than 60% of the leagues teams have moved into new stadiums in that same time frame. Team practice and training facilities, weight rooms, offices, and planes have all gone digital, and even the players’ equipment is drastically more high tech than back in the 90’s. It’s seems that when a college or pro football teams notices something can be improved, whether it be their depth chart, playbook, jumbotron, or uniform color scheme, the upgrade happens quickly no matter the cost. So I ask, when nearly everything in football has been changing rapidly for decades, why are we just beginning to change the way we look at concussions?

In April of 1999, Mike Webster, a then 47 year old who played for 16 seasons in the NFL, claimed in his disability application to the NFL that his football career had caused him dementia. Two and a half years later, the NFL’s Retirement Board ruled that Webster’s football career had in fact caused him permanent brain damage, with Webster’s lawyer arguing that the ruling means the NFL should’ve known there was a clear link between football and brain damage. Just two months later the chairman of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) committee, Dr. Elliot Pellman, claimed that studies by his committee had shown that brain injuries in the NFL are uncommon and minor. In 2003, the same Dr. Pellman (who also served as the team doctor for the New York Jets) sent a Jets player back into a game minutes after being knocked out cold and even authorized his committee’s publishing of a paper in Neurosurgery where they claimed that NFL players are actually LESS susceptible to brain injury. This pattern of negligence would continue for years (and some would say still continues); it wasn’t until Allegheny (Pa) County medical examiner Dr. Bennet Omalu examined former player Mike Webster’s brain and found a connection between head injuries sustained in football and the development chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that a potential problem was discovered.

In the years since Dr. Omalu’s discovery of CTE in Mike Webster’s brain, concussions have taken center stage amongst a laundry list of other problems in the NFL. In more than five cases of former NFL players who committed suicide since 2010, CTE was discovered in the brain of ALL of them. According to a September 2015 article published in the Atlantic [ ], researchers at Boston University studied the brains of 165 former football players, with experience ranging from high school, college, and the professional level. Of the studied players, an astounding 79% of them were found to traces of CTE in their brain, with 96% of the 91 former NFL players who were tested testing positive for evidence of CTE.

Despite the small test group from this study, I found it absolutely shocking to read that nearly all of the former NFL players tested had developed signs of CTE. Perhaps even more horrifying is the fact that many of these players, who had only played football up to the high school level, had evidence of CTE in their brain. 20 years ago, the NFL had no idea it had a concussion problem. 10 years later, the league was still trying to deny the same theory. Today, it’s clear that there is a significant link between playing football and developing permanent brain damage, an issue that’s no longer affecting strictly pro players. Yes, the NFL does have a concussion problem, but so does the entire sport of football, a sport that over 1,088,000 high school boys play each fall.




4 thoughts on “Concussions in Football

  1. Maximilian Arthur Kesner

    Great blog post; it was very well organized. One piece of advice I have is that you should focus more on the science aspect and less on the history of concussions in the NFL. Finding out from the observational study that almost all former NFL players had noticeable signs of CTE was shocking. I played contact sports up until I came to college, so I’m no stranger to concussions. I’ve had four in high school alone. You might find this paper interesting. It is about the conferences held in Zurich, that deal solely with the concussion epidemic.

  2. Kaitlyn A Kaminski

    Hi Nicholas,

    Amazing article! I have always loved reading/learning about concussions. When the Will Smith movie, Concussion, came out I had to go with my sister because it fascinated me! I have always thought about if concussions were worth the price of the game… was it worth playing and risking your life and possibly getting CTE? I actually did an article on concussions for the Daily Collegian talking about this topic and found your post to be well written. I think sports are progressing and getting safer with new material to protect the head, but there will always be a risk. Here’s an article on trauma to the head with football players-, enjoy!

  3. Thomas Tatem Moore


    As an athlete who played multiple contact sports for many years I have been informed and exposed to concussions many times. It is really a shame how prevalent they are and the amount of damage they can do to an individual down the line. On the flip side it is beneficial how much more informed people are about concussions as opposed to in the past, and because of this players can be treated more properly and quickly as opposed to in the past. Here is an article I found and used in a blog I wrote in the first blog period that lays out the timeline of concussion knowledge and treatment in the NFL and other levels of football.

  4. Rachel Lauren Satell

    I found your post interesting, but I couldn’t help but wonder how athletes that play other sports are impacted by concussions. My younger sister is a basketball player and had several severe concussions as a result of her playing. You are definitely right when you say that concussions are a concern for football players regardless of their amateur or pro status, but that can be further expanded to athletes of any kind. The below article from CBS by Michelle Castillo, details the risks posed to basketball players.

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