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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


NFL steps up defense for protecting its players, benefiting college athletes as well

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

Next time J. J. Watt sacks some sorry invalid from an opposing team, don’t be surprised if you see a faint glow emit from the outside of his helmet.

A bourgeoning market of “impact sensors” has started making waves within the athletic community. These sensors are installed externally on the player’s helmets and are outfitted with a light that’s triggered to flash when the player undergoes a particularly rough hit — the kind of hit that, left unchecked, might lead to a concussion.

As reported by CNN, these impact sensors are by no means equipped to diagnose or alert the coaches of a concussion. They’re simply designed to react to the jolt of a high-magnitude impact.

“These technologies can be useful if used cautiously, as long as you don’t overinterpret what they mean,” said Jeffrey Kutcher, director of the University of Michigan NeuroSport Program. “It could be really dangerous to rely on this too much.”

The development of these technologies illustrates a significant shift in the nature of the game. After all, when it comes to football, cranial injuries are written off as nothing more than an occupational hazard. The treatment of such injuries seems to be less medicinal and more fiscal. When the average NFL football player rakes in $1.2 million annually, the populace tends to write off their headaches as something well worth their generous stipend.

Rather than change the game, though, it seems the next best thing is instilling some preventative measures in helping our athletes age with grace and without Alzheimer’s.

Few argue the existence of a more savage sport than football. It’s a game that has come to define Monday night since its inception in 1970, courtesy of ABC. The lump sum of NFL teams’ net worth is around $30 billion, according to Forbes. Sports Illustrated recently reported it as being the most lucrative sports league in the world.

Clearly, it’s a game that’s got its perks. You don’t have to watch football to know to whom Gisele Bündchen goes home at night or which 2013 Philadelphia Eagles player you might not want dog-sitting for you while you’re visiting family this holiday season. Football players possess a unique celebrity status, one that surpasses the celebrity of their dribbling, slap-shooting or home-run-hitting counterparts.

That fat salary might more accurately be described as a high-profile, above-the-table hazard pay, though. For as much glitz and glamor as there is in the celebrity status we’ve bestowed upon our nation’s athletes, it’s undoubtedly countered by a staggeringly high prevalence of concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a degenerative neurological disease — and dementia.

Such injuries are growing harder and harder to ignore, though. There’s now irrefutable evidence that the effects of playing football persist long beyond the last time players take off their pads.

A recent study reported by ABC found that ex-football players are at a considerably heightened risk for chronic pain in old age — and depression as a result of the chronic pain. Then, there’s former NFL safety Andre Waters’ 2006 suicide and the posthumous pathology report that found Waters was suffering from brain damage caused by multiple concussions during his 12-year career.

There’s also the suicides of former defensive back Paul Oliver, linebacker Junior Seau, safety Ray Easterling, defensive back Dave Duerson and linebacker Jovan Belcher.

All players except Belcher were found to have been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Belcher’s remains weren’t tested for CTE.

And it’s not just the NFL. Unfortunately, UH isn’t the only college campus that has seen their starting quarterback’s career come to a premature end due to the inherent nature of the game.

David Piland, starting Cougar quarterback from 2011-2012, decided to respectably throw in the towel this season due to his head injuries, all of which were incurred throughout his football career.

Piland was advised by multiple medical experts to bring his athletic career to an end.

Ultimately, one can deduce that Piland made the decision for his own good — sacrificing his last season of collegiate football for a life spent without debilitating headaches and a potentially heightened risk of suicide.

It’s an interesting conundrum — on the one hand, football players have some of the most severe occupational hazards out there. Taking a different perspective, they’re some of the most generously compensated employees out there, too, and it could be argued that their hazard pay is more than comparable to their hazard.

Electrical engineering junior Erik Van Aller shared little sympathy with our nation’s most well-compensated demigods.

“NFL athletes are paid way more than enough,” Van Aller said. “I’m not exactly sure how much the treatment is for such head injuries’ cost, but some of those players are making $15 to $20 million a year, which is more than enough.”

Finance junior Andrew Stephens agreed with Van Aller’s sympathies, approaching the issue from a fiscal perspective.

“Professional football players get paid enough for the risks of a head or neck injury,” Stephens said. “Other careers with equal or higher risk get paid much less than the lowest contract in the NFL. The reason these professional athletes get paid so much is because the job requires the highest skill level — unlike most jobs in the corporate world, where skills can be learned through classes and even workshops.”

Stephens touched on a perspective not many take when weighing the risks versus the compensation of NFL athletes — the fact that the men are made fully aware of the risk they’re taking on and seem to find it worth the pay.

Stephens added, “In the NFL, you have to possess athletic skills that cannot be learned. The players are grown men, and they’re perfectly capable of understanding the risks prior to signing that contract.”

Occupational hazards exist in any occupation, regardless of its physical nature. Accountants netting $50,000 a year are at a heightened risk for carpal tunnel syndrome and lumbar region joint maladies. The Houston Chronicle reported that both male and female teachers — who typically net around $40,000 annually — have a heightened lifetime prevalence of laryngitis and rhinopharyngitis, two upper-respiratory tract infections.

The American Public Health Association recently reported that any given construction worker will experience at least one work-related illness or injury over the course of a career. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average annual salary of a construction worker just two years ago was a meager $29,730.

Sure, the hazard of an accountant is laughable compared to that of a professional athlete — then again, an accountant also brings home 0.6 percent of Matt Schaub’s 2013 salary.

Senior staff columnist Cara Smith is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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