Limiting the Negative Effects of Football on players
Safety among football players has long been a concern for everybody involved: Parents, players, coaches, and spectators. While both changes to the rules and improvements in player gear have increased the sport’s safety, degenerative neurological diseases are still a common topic among the football community. Examples of these diseases are Alzheimer’s disease, Spinal muscular atrophy, and the most commonly discussed, CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy). (Garner, 2019). There is currently a vast amount of research being conducted on this topic to create a more enjoyable, safer experience for all levels of football, beginning as early as elementary school. However, more concern is surrounding the players that continue onto the collegiate level and eventually professional. The main reason for this is that the longer a player is involved in football, the higher the chance of developing these degenerative neurological diseases. Likewise, physical injuries are just as much of a problem, if not more of a problem, than mental injuries.
The three most common injuries occurring on the football field relate to the knee, ankle, and leg muscles (Hamstring, Quadricep, and Calf). Football, being a full-contact sport, can undoubtedly begin to cause breakdowns to the body over time no matter the precautions taken; however, yielding to this standard is not an option. It may seem that there are countless seemingly unfixable dangers regarding football; however, this does not mean there is no solution. The progress made over the last decade has done wonders for football and immensely diminished players’ lasting physical and psychological injuries. Further research can only continue to help eliminate all injuries. It would be foolish to think that risk of injury can be fully removed, but the question remains: How can we limit the negative effects of football?
The most prominent of these negative effects football imposes is the injuries. As a result of football, an estimated 455,449 high school football injuries occurred in the 2018-2019 school year alone. (Injury Claim Coach, 2021). Repeated trauma can often stem into other concerning issues involving degenerative conditions and injuries incapable of fully healing. Just under 500,000 injuries a year only in high school football; this leaves football at the elementary, middle school, collegiate, and professional injuries unaccounted for. It is clear this number is staggering and far too high and therefore why we need a solution. Physical contact is always going to be a cause of injury and difficult to control, so it’s important to focus on the factors of the game that we can control. Among these factors are the stadium and the conditions players play the game in. Weather, playing surface, and type of stadium seem to have noticeable impacts on player injuries. Playing on natural grass instead of astroturf has shown decreased chances of injury relating to the ankles and knees.
It is no surprise that weather can have a significant effect on the playing conditions of football and consequently the injury rates, however, attempting to shield every football field from the elements is unachievable and irrelevant; the sport is far too popular, and there are far too many fields to accommodate the vast number of players with luxuries such as domed and cooled fields to reduce such injuries. Unlike warmer and dry weather, cold and wet weather also has a lower risk of injury to players, specifically the ankle, knee, and ACL regions. (Orchard JW, Powell JW, 2003). For decades, it seems that physical injuries were the primary discussion regarding injuries caused by football; however, the mental side of the injuries has gained tremendous traction. With cognitive research on the incline, attention to neurological diseases has become arguably the top focus of the football community. As mentioned prior in the introduction, Alzheimer’s disease, Spinal muscular atrophy, and the most commonly discussed CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy) are all proven neurological degenerative diseases common amongst football players. (Garner, 2019). The primary cause of these life-altering diseases is repeated head trauma. Because physicality is a foundational aspect of the game, rule changes regarding contact may not be easily accepted. Pairing with the mental changes of cognitive diseases comes behavioural effects. The behavior of athletes can vary tremendously if brain function slows in parts of the brain and increases in other parts. Many football players have expressed their concerns about the game and its threats to their health, especially physical health (Folland et al., 2018). A large percentage of players wish they had more information about the game before they involved themselves in it. They wished they had not participated in the game because of the negative effects and the long-term and short-term risks that come with it. On the other hand, some footballers are driven by their passion and still wouldn’t mind the consequences of playing the game.
Despite being the most popular sport in America, football continues to threaten the lives of its players. The long-term health damages force some of them to end their careers before their time. According to a statement released by the Bloomberg Political Poll, many parents are against their children playing football for fear of their long-term health concerns (Swales, 1987). The biggest fear for most players, parents and fans is head injury. According to the Health Research Funding Organization, concussions occur with ablow to the head through contact and cause brain damage. If the concussion is undiagnosed and treated early enough, it will likely cause permanent brain damage. Repeated blows to the head during a game by players can also negatively affect a player besides brain damage (Garner, 2019). It can lead to the primary Chronic Traumatic Encelophathy, CTE. This brain disease is degenerative and progressive and mostly affects athletes with a repetitive history of persistent brain trauma.
An American-Nigerian forensic pathologist and physician, Bennet Omalu, discovered the CTE in 2002. According to him, any force transmitted to the brain is termed as a concussion, and a repetition of the same eventually leads to CTE (Webster TA, 2015). Alongside other medical experts, Bennet agrees that it has not yet been determined whether concussions and CTE are a cumulative effect of head injury due to the introduction to football since childhood. The aggressive tendencies normalized between players during the football games need to be evaluated and measures taken before most players fall victim to it and leave the field earlier than anticipated (Francis et al., 2020). The long-term effect of these physical and emotional injuries inflicted by the football game will see the game lose its valuable players and consequently the loyal fans hence dying down.
Footballers are likely to suffer the long-term physical effects of the game. The direct and forceful interactions among players create additional health risks for ligaments and joints damaged. The pain after the impact may be short-lived and mild, making the player believe they are okay. However, repetitive hits on the same spots on the player’s body result in neurological problems (Orchard et al., 2003). Over time, the players develop very weak elbow, hip and knee joints. As players grow older, they have difficulties moving, walking, stretching their arms out, bending and making simple body movements. Due to the negative impacts of the nature of the game, it becomes difficult to conduct their routines without a strain as their flexibility has been interfered with. According to the 2009 Annual Survey of Catastrophic Football Injuries, seven cervical cord injuries with incomplete neurological recoveries were reported from high schools and college institutions (Folland et al., 2018). Most of the cervical cord injuries that players suffer occur during the game followed closely by practice off the pitch.
Professional footballers who have been in the football world for a long time may hide their mild injuries for fear of being viewed as inferior or criticized by the fan. They are afraid of losing relevance in the market. For this reason, they ignore the need to see a specialist for their mild injuries and resort to taking pain medications secretly. This move is very dangerous for a player because it plays out in different negative ways. The pain medications might numb the injury and allow players to finish their game successfully. However, the injury continues to worsen with time and affects the functionality of other body parts (Webster TA, 2015). Moreover, the pain medications are highly addictive and might leave the respective players dependent on them for a lifetime. Such players risk losing their careers and potential mental health instability.
Many coaches in the football world are aware of the popularity of the game and the significance of introducing fresh and talented football players to the field. They are aware of the advantages and the benefits they are likely to get from such moves in football. For this reason, they go after very young players who just discovered their talents and are more ambitious to utilize and maximize them. They urge these young players to focus and specialize in one aspect of the game they feel they are really good at. The truth is that specialization in one area increases the exposure of a player’s body to injuries (Injury Claim Coach, 2021). Most football players suffer injuries in the body parts that give them the most advantage against their opponents when playing the game. According to the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health research, coaches to most footballers underestimate the injuries and their effects on the players. They chose to ignore the burnouts and the injuries that result from playing the game because they are driven with a much greater goal of staying relevant and profiting from the football world.
Young players suffer the most because they are confused and don’t comprehend the stakeholders and their intentions in the football world. Coaches take advantage of this situation and sell dreams to the players and their parents. Administrators promise college sponsorships and a stable football career while subjecting them to excessive practice and pitch time without considering their physical and mental health. They eventually blow away the potential of most players and drop them for fresher, new skilled and healthy players. This cruelty in the football world, especially young players, leaves them in a bad physical and mental state. Injuries leave players feeling helpless and unproductive. This condition is quite dangerous as it can easily result in mental instability, depression and impaired judgment.
Football is very engaging and time-consuming for the players. The football schedule is quite tight, and it goes all year round. Footballers travel a lot for matches and tournaments across the world. For this reason, professional footballers have little time to spend with their families. Being away from family and friends can be harmful to one’s mental health. It leaves them feeling lonely, sometimes disengaged from the family and a lack of sense of belonging. These aspects might interfere with the player’s concentration and performance during a match. Furthermore, players are always under constant pressure to put up the best performance to meet the team’s expectations, coach, and fans. This feeling can be overwhelming to the players and might destabilize their mental state if not properly handled. Post career physical pains, career dissatisfaction, and the bad relationship between coaches and teammates threaten football players’ wellness.
It is undeniable that football jeopardizes the safety of its players, both long-term and short-term. It is a crisis that requires full attention from all the stakeholders. The leaders in this sector refuse to adopt safety measures that would otherwise protect players against physical harm because they believe these protective measures will interfere with the traditional football game. Policies that allow protective measures, including protective gears, should be developed and implemented as soon as possible. The government needs to intervene and secure the lives of football players. Football agencies need to be transparent and honest with their players while recruiting them to understand what is at stake. The wellness of younger players should also be considered because they also struggle with their physical and mental health like professional players.
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