The approach of fall means something special to many people: the beginning of another football season.
Whether its watching youth leagues, high school players, college teams or NFL superstars, Americans love their football. You simply cannot separate the season from the sport.
There has been growing concern, however, about the lasting effects of this admittedly violent activity. Some former NFL players have come forward with heart-wrenching stories of how head injuries have impaired them for life due to early-onset dementia.
In decades past, many football professionals thought little of playing through the pain. As long as they could drag themselves back onto the field and resume the game, this was all that was important.
But advancements in medical research have shown this to be a hazardous mindset. The body is often affected in ways that wont manifest themselves for some time to come.
This is especially true for head trauma. Small injuries to the brain here and there add up over time, and the result can be alarming. And its often the case that by the time the major damage is discovered, there is little that can be done about it.
Some former NFL stars have sued the league for fostering an environment that was indifferent to their vulnerability to injuries. They have provided compelling evidence that the years of hits theyve taken have caused irreparable harm to their brains.
Whats truly disturbing is that very early signs of these types of injuries have been observed among high school football players. Some medical researchers studying the adverse effects of repeated concussions on the brains of young men on football teams revealed signs of problems to come in the near future for these players.
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently issued an alert that no football helmet can prevent concussions, despite the claims made on some products. He urged parents and sports officials to be aware of the warning signs of concussion and to enforce stronger penalties for blows to the head.
Some sports analysts have predicted that the issue of head injuries could alter or even ultimately end football. Lawsuits are growing, and the potential loss of money has a way of bringing certain activities to a close.
Its not so much the legal action against the NFL that would do this. While no one likes losing money, the NFL has deep pockets.
Where some analysts believe litigation could hamper the game is on the high school or elementary school level. If more evidence is uncovered showing that young people are at risk for brain damage by playing football, lawsuits are sure to follow.
And public school districts could not afford to sustain football programs if legal action revealed any negligence in keeping students safe. If enough school districts were forced to suspend their football teams, how long could the NFL survive?
With school budgets already strained, district officials must guard against the temptation to cut corners with football equipment or safety techniques. They must continue to ensure that the well-being of their players is their No. 1 priority. Keeping football around will require a commitment to understanding the newly discovered risks and adhering to the best practices known to prevent head injuries from occurring.