The long-term effects of concussions has been thrust back into the news with a new test that can detect CTE (chronic traumatic in the living. That test has been used to diagnose more former players including former Dallas Cowboy great Tony Dorsett. The NFL has finally recognizing the problem, and is taking steps to make the game safer, even though the entire concept of making football safe seems ridiculous.
Parents are also taking a serious look at the safety risks in deciding whether or not to even let their children play football. But who is there to look out for the best interest of college players, who may not make it to the NFL, or those who aren’t in the NFL for any length of time. It has been documented that some of the symptoms may not be evident for years, so is it fair that these players, who define student athletes, will pay the ultimate price for that education. In the debate regarding paying college players, people against paying the athletes say that they are receiving a college education, which has substantial value. But is it that much value that we expect them to deal with health issues down the line?
Since we only hear about the NFL head injuries, one may think that it is just a NFL problem. But these NFL players start in college, and the case of Chris Henry shows that this isn’t just an NFL problem. Chris Henry was a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, who died after falling off the back of a moving truck during a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. After he passed, his brain was donated to science and it was found that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits to the head, according to ESPN.com. It is unknown how CTE affects behavior, but it was speculated that it could have had a role in his death.
Henry’s story is significant because he only played in the NFL for 5 seasons, and he was a wide receiver, so he didn’t experience many NFL high impact collisions. Henry’s case is also of note because he was known for his sporadic behavior and run-ins with the law. Research is still being done regarding CTE, but is it possible that his behavior was linked to his brain damage? After all why would he be on the back of a moving truck? If that is the case it would explain why many college football players make puzzling decisions. I would always wonder how a player that was going to make millions of dollars would jeopardize everything over something seemingly trivial. Maybe they can’t help it. That would explain why Justin Blackmon and Von Miller can’t stay clean, or how why Ndamakong Suh took so long to calm down on the field.
But even if something definitive was known regarding head injuries, the problem gets even more complex for college football players. There are safer helmets, but with a safer alternative, the helmets are more expensive. Some NFL players already wear the helmets, and, with the safety concerns regarding football, more parents are purchasing these helmets for their children. But the NCAA is a problem for college football players.
The NCAA’s job is to ensure competitive balance, and if one program has safer helmets and another program doesn’t, is it fair? Would there be a recruiting advantage for that school with the safer helmets? Probably so, but all the players should have access to the safest helmets available, even if it cuts into the school’s profit, or if the school can’t afford safe helmets then maybe they shouldn’t field a team. The true student athletes, who actually use their scholarship and won’t be going pro, are the ones who need the protection.
These athletes are being exploited by their schools because the schools will take a big payday to be a sacrificial lamb against a team they have no chance of beating. It is usually those players that end up taking a beating, and, as we learn more about head traumas, the question has to be asked, what is the long-term cost to those players? Are they paying for their college education by sacrificing their future quality of life? The sad part is, nothing will probably change because these schools are making too much money. They will continue to justify their actions based on the assumption that the needs of a few shouldn’t stand in the way of a greater common good.
So the true student athlete is left to fade into oblivion. No one is going to do any studies to see how their quality of life is affected in their later years, and their perspective schools don’t care after their eligibility is used up. Who is going to speak up for those players? Or do we even care since they aren’t famous? Their voice needs to be heard, but will anyone have the courage to speak up for them?