As the Suicides and Brain Injuries Pile Up, Can Football Ever Be Safe?
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AMY GOODMAN: Now, the league has said for a long time, you know, the players can say, if they get hurt, they don’t want to go back in, that it’s their responsibility to say they’re injured.
CHRIS NOWINSKI: Yeah, that was—and Rodney hit it on the head. It was always a question of education. I did not know the definition of a concussion, even after having a Harvard degree and 19 years of bashing my head, because we’ve never forced anyone to ever tell an athlete what it means when you get hit in the head and things go fuzzy. And so, the idea—the problem was always informed consent at the beginning. And that’s why Ted Johnson, who was one of the first players to come forward, the former New England Patriot, stepped forward. He said, you know, "At least let me make this decision for myself." And so, in 2010, the NFLfinally did start educating the players. And so, now it’s a different ball game at the pro level, but what really needs to have a light shined on is the fact that there is no such thing as informed consent for children. And 95 percent of the people playing football in this country are under the age of consent, they’re under 18. And that’s where we really should be focusing.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk—let’s talk about that for a minute. I bet there are a lot of moms and dads and kids who are listening right now. What about a family whose kid is just really good in football and in high school? Maybe they’re even being head-hunted right now for the big leagues. What do you say?
CHRIS NOWINSKI: I say it’s a huge risk right now. It’s—your child surviving youth football is right now mostly luck, because there are so few standards in place to actually protect them. Consider the fact that yesterday the NFL and NFLPAannounced they will now have independent neurologists on the sideline because they do not trust the team doctors to make a judgment about whether or not someone who has a concussion can go back in. That’s the level of safety we have in the NFL. They even pay an athletic trainer to sit in the skybox to watch the television feed, because they miss so many concussions on the field. If that’s what these millionaires need to protect themselves—your child has no medical professionals, coaches with no training. You know, their young developing brain is more sensitive to the trauma. And so, from that perspective, you wonder how you could expose children to a game that we think is killing adults.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Nowinski, can you talk about this unprecedented lawsuit that has been filed against the NFL?
CHRIS NOWINSKI: Yeah, I mean, personally, with our role, we kind of stay out of this. But from what’s been happening, is former players who did suffer these injuries on the job are suing the league for not warning them and then not taking care of them. You know, the reality is, you know, when I wrote the first edition of Head Games in 2006, I was appalled by the fact that, you know, chronic traumatic encephalopathy—this disease was originally called "punch drunk" in 1928. But we never looked into football, and everyone just assumed football would avoid it.
We knew that putting players back into the game was very bad for their brains when they had concussions, but we did it. You know, the 1937 American Football Coaches Association minutes talk about the fact that they’re saying, "We’ve got to stop putting guys back in. We’ve got to stop putting guys back in." And it was 72 years later when that became the policy. So, you know, I don’t know what exactly happened, but, you know, there’s a lot of guys suffering that need care, and I understand why they’re suing.