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April 15, 2015
by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Emergent Data about Football and Brain Injury: Is Football Safe to Play?

April 15, 2015 05:55 by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Football is America’s Popular Sport

In recent years, however, the safety of the sport is being scrutinized as there’s a growing body of research evidence suggesting a clear link between football and brain injury. Specifically, repeated head concussions endured by many professional football players have been found to cause a brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  According to Wikipedia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is described as a form of progressive degenerative disease. Currently, this brain condition can only be diagnosed definitively postmortem, which means that it cannot be diagnosed in living people.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Although additional research is needed to rule out other variables, it has been indicated that CTE is most commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football, boxing, ice hockey, professional wrestling and other contact sports which involve repetitive brain trauma. CTE has also been linked to soldiers exposed to a blast or a concussive injury resulting in the build-up of tau protein found in CTE. It has been noted that individuals with CTE may concurrently develop long-term neuro-cognitive problems involving memory loss and confusion coupled with aggression, anger, and depression, which could develop and manifest over the course of many years and even decades.  It is indicated that more research is under way to develop effective means of early detection so as to curtail the progression of the disease.

Recently, a new data released by the Boston University CTE Center has shown that 76 out of 79 deceased former National Football League (NFL) players were found to have signs of CTE. Among these are Tom McHalen of Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dave Duerson of Chicago Bears, and Junior Seau of San Diego Chargers. This finding in conjunction with other supporting evidence has prompted the NFL to enforce new, safer rules with improved equipment, more streamlined protocols, and advanced medical care for players.

It's Not Getting Safer

Despite the league’s efforts to make football safer and its claim that not all players suffer traumatic consequences, many players are already wary of the potential risks and considering an alternative choice. Notably, Oakland's Maurice Jones-Drew, Pittsburgh's Jason Worilds, San Francisco's Patrick Willis, and Tennessee's Jake Locker have all decided to retire early because of their concern for the risk of brain trauma and other mental health issues associated with football. Most recently, Chris Borland (of the San Francisco 49ers) has announced that he’s also leaving football at age 24 because he’s gravely concerned about his own health after having suffered two diagnosed concussions.

These emerging concerns about the sport’s safety may shift the way Americans view and enjoy football.  A growing number of fans are heedfully cognizant of how their favorite teams/players are adversely impacted and more parents are weighing these evidences of harm when deciding to let their children play. According to a recent survey conducted by Bloomberg Politics, fifty percent (50%) of Americans are opting against their sons playing football. These findings further speak to the gravity of the crisis facing American football as a whole.

In the Future

As the public is becoming more aware of the dangers looming large, it is also raising many questions about what should and could be done to ensure the safety of all players. Perhaps even more aggressive, systematic measures may be warranted by the NFL with which to equip both players and staff, further empowering them to make informed choices about the known/unknown risks involved in the sport. Especially in light of the pending class-action concussion lawsuit against the league, the matters at hand only seem to be escalating in their magnitude.

Even though football is America’s favorite pastime, these new challenges are behooving Americans to rethink about the price being paid to keep the spirit alive. Given all of the medical evidence pointing to the detrimental side effects, violence and concussion are no longer construed or accepted blindly as inevitable part of the game. With the mounting evidence otherwise, Americans are now asking if it is really worth it. To this day, football still remains as the hallmark of American culture but these rising concerns could ultimately compromise the sport’s popularity and redefine its paradigm.


Breslow, J. September 30, 2014. 76 of 79 Deceased NFL Players Found to Have Brain Disease. Retrieved from

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Retrieved from

Rettner, R. March 17, 2015. Chris Borland Leaves NFL: The Science of Football and Brain Injury. Retrieved from

Thompson, D. March 20, 2015. For Safety's Sake A Young Star Player Quits NFL. Retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Agnes Oh Dr. Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Dr. Agnes Oh is dually licensed as a clinical psychologist and a marriage and family therapist in the state of California, fully committed to helping each individual to maximize his/her intrinsic potential to heal, grow, and thrive.

Dr. Agnes Oh has a clinical practice in Glendale, CA

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