A new health epidemic looms on the horizon like a ticking time bomb. It is the spectre of cumulative brain damage suffered from repetitive sub-concussive hits to the head in football and other sports.
A concussion does not necessitate being knocked out cold. It is a blow to the head or body creating a change in brain function. Research is now showing that damage is occurring in regular action to most football athletes on most plays. And none of it is diagnosed or charted.
The simple act of an offensive lineman hitting a defensive lineman to start a play produces sub-concussive damage to both players.
I have made the point before that a lineman who plays high school, collegiate and a long career in the NFL could emerge from the sport with 10,000 sub-concussive hits — none of which are diagnosed. The highest percentage of concussive damage on a football team occurs to the offensive line.
Quarterback is actually a safer position.
The enhanced size, speed and strength of contemporary athletes with modern nutrition and training techniques amplify the physics of every hit. The cumulative damage does not necessarily manifest immediately. Some years may pass before impairment becomes evident. But come it will, and the numbers will be staggering.
Remember that premature senility syndrome, dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy can be some of the results of excessive hits.
What is the responsible position to take in the face of this onslaught?
I am forming a new foundation called Athletes Speak to focus attention on the problem and fund research on the solution which will have iconic athletes speaking out.
Hall of Fame footballers Earl Campbell and Warren Moon are the first two members of the Board of Directors and more will soon be announced.
To make sure we have access to the state of the art research in the field we have assembled the pioneers in the field of head injury. Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Julian Bailes, Dr. David Hovda, Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz and Dr. Kristen Willeumier have agreed to serve and they will soon be joined by other experts.
The imperative here is to try and prevent more future pain and suffering. What makes this injury different than any other athletic injury is that it affects the brain. It impacts memory, reasoning and character — what it means to be human.
The adolescent brain is at risk for more severe, long-lasting damage.
There are many groups and researchers who are doing heroic work on this issue, but having athletes speak out is critical.
I sat through a presentation by the creator of a new helmet technology that promises to revolutionize the actual protection provided to athletes which is on the horizon. I will write more on that later.
Meanwhile we welcome any help or ideas for Athletes Speak.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.