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Americans Know Football Causes Brain Damage, But Still Want to Watch

A great majority of Americans know football can cause serious injury to the brain, but that hasn’t stopped them from watching it and making it the most popular sport on TV. They agree that more should be done to make the game safer, and support efforts to increase awareness, but their support still won’t lead most of them to turn off the TV and keep their money away from football stadiums.

There have been some very public football deaths. Great stars have committed suicide or died as a result of brain damage.

There have also been football players dropping out of the NFL for fear over their future brain health. Some have dropped out as soon as they came into the league.

Others have made statements after seeing last year’s NFL movie Concussion. That film explored the dangers of football, with actor Will Smith playing a doctor who tries to bring awareness to the issue, only to be stifled by NFL execs who want to keep the issue quiet.

Football has come to a point where its dangers are challenging the very existence of the sport itself. Dr. Elliot Pellman, the head doctor for the NFL, has finally been fired, but only after he and the NFL failed to keep the problem with player concussions a secret and could no longer downplay its effects.

Deadspin described what his main role was in NFL operations. “This is a man who, despite having no experience or expertise in brain research, helped author 16 papers that waved off the dangers of sending concussed players back into the game. And yet there he remained, still drawing a paycheck from the NFL and serving as the league’s medical director.”

In a survey conducted in May and June of this year, the Center for Public Opinion surveyed 1,000 people about the correlation between concussions and sports. They aimed to get a sense of the awareness of the public on the issue, and on the growing concern of how concussions lead athletes to come down with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, the newly diagnosed brain damage-related illness at the heart of the real life story taken from the Concussion movie.

The main findings, as posted on the University of Massachusetts, Lowell website state the following results. “There is widespread awareness that concussions and post-concussion syndrome are caused by sports and represent a significant public health issue. Majorities of Americans would favor changes to youth sports; large majorities do not believe that tackle football or heading the ball in soccer are appropriate until they reach high school.

“This is true among both men and women. Professional, college, and national sports organizations, by and large, are viewed by the public as having done too little to address the concussion issue in sports.”

The findings basically indicate that there is a problem, and Americans are aware of the problem, but not quite enough to seriously affect participation in the sport or change the way the sport is played. But recent moves by the NFL, and the fact that a movie like Concussion can get made, acknowledges that there could be a backlash if football doesn’t face up to the issue openly.

As Deadspin further reports, congressional investigators recognized that the NFL even tried to use a federal agency to influence concussion research in its favor. If they can break the connection between the concussions that happen on the football field and brain damage that plagues even the biggest NFL stars later in life, the NFL can continue to dominate American sports without addressing such health concerns.

Football is going to have to change if it wants to survive, but nobody knows how. There has been little change so far that directly impacts the game.

A dramatic change is likely to include rule changes, prohibitions on the use of the head in tackles and rushing, and other safety measures.

Until more comprehensive measures are taken, the NFL and all football organizations will continue to find themselves in controversy.

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