A new breed of terror has been caught stalking the streets of NFLsville and its name is concussion. Over the past few months, this fiend has been blamed for causing all kinds of horrific happenings ranging from suicides (Junior Seau) through to early retirements (too many to mention) and hostage-taking (Corwin Brown). But is concussion really the villain of the piece, or are we all getting just a little bit carried away here?
At first glance, both the statistical and anecdotal evidence linking concussions to suicide and criminal behavior seem overwhelming but – as is generally the case where anecdotes and statistics hang out together – we may only be hearing one side of the story. A growing number of skeptics believe that many players are taking advice from legal eagles who are considerably more concerned with swollen bank accounts than with swollen brains and are therefore simply hurling themselves headfirst onto the latest passing bandwagon.
The first issue is that the NFL is not the only form of sport where concussions are common-place. In horse-racing – especially the jumps variety – jockeys regularly suffer concussions, and they are also quite frequent in other full contact sports such as ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. And although these sports are by no means exempt from suicides, when such an event does occur it is considered as being an exceptionally sad oddity rather than an indication that there is something intrinsically wrong with the sport itself.
When, for instance, Welsh international soccer star Gary Speed recently committed suicide there was never even a hint of any suggestion that it had been caused by the fact that he repeatedly headed a football (and, inevitably if accidentally, also a few human skulls) on a day-in, day-out basis throughout his entire 22-year professional career.
And in relation to the statistics which indicate that there is a link between head trauma and the subsequent commission of criminal offences, there is a very good reason as to why these particular numbers should be approached with extreme caution. Primarily it must be taken into account that these statistics were derived from the study of convicted criminals, and it seems sensible to suppose that people who pursue a criminal lifestyle are more likely to receive blows to the head (in fistfights, car crashes, intoxicated falls, and so on) than are those who carve a career in, say, finance. As a result it is much more reasonable to conclude that criminality creates head injuries rather than the other way around.
It is seemingly a statement of the obvious to say that people can commit suicide / engage in criminality / take drugs for a variety of reasons and yet concussion is continually being wheeled out as the preferred excuse of any former NFL star who has encountered difficulties upon retirement. You’ve shot somebody? Concussion. Got a crack habit? Head injuries. Feeling suicidal? Must be from when Rodney Harrison banged you out. Maybe things are becoming just a little over-simplified.
Junior Seau’s death was a sad episode indeed, and I would not wish to detract from that. However, the fact that his brain may be donated to science in order to establish if there is a connection between concussion and depression serves as a clear reminder that we are not dealing with a fait accompli here.
So until the boffins become capable of proving it one way or the other – or there is a sudden spate of suicides amongst jump jockeys and rugby players – it might be wise to temporarily take a seat over by the skeptics and look on with a slightly raised eyebrow while the lawyers do their thing.
What are your thoughts on concussions plaguing the world of sports today? Let us know in the comments!