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NFL and Dementia: A Postscript

Faster than a speeding pigskin, the National Football League has moved to change rules, consultants, and public perception about its stance on head injuries and subsequent cognitive problems. (For previous Bioethics Forum posts, click here and here.)

On November 24, after the NFL Players Association called for his removal as co-chair of the league’s research and policy group, Dr. Ira Casson resigned. His co-chair, Dr. David Viano, also resigned. A week later, the NFL announcedstringent new rules for managing concussions.

From now on, any player who shows significant signs of concussion – amnesia, poor balance, and abnormal neurological exam – will be taken out of a game or practice and will not be allowed to return on that day. This ruling has already affected several high-profile players, such as Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals.

Attention is now shifting to another factor that contributes to concussions – the use of helmets as battering rams to hit opponents head-first. Another concern is that players – at all levels – may be reluctant to report injuries if they know that they will be benched.

Some fans applaud the new concern for players’ health. Others shrug off the controversy, pointing out that  pro football players are grown men, making lots of money, knowingly taking big risks for big gains.

The same, however, cannot be said of high school and college students who emulate their older but not necessarily wiser sports heroes. The rules may have changed, but will the culture follow?

Published on: December 7, 2009
Published in: Health and Health Care

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