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As the Suicides and Brain Injuries Pile Up, Can Football Ever Be Safe?

Worth asking before more lives are ruined.

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AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to an excerpt from the documentary  Head Games, based on your book, Chris, by the same name.

ALAN SCHWARZ: It’s been known for a long time that banging your head over and over and over and over again can be a bad thing.

CHRIS NOWINSKI: And I remember I hit the ground, and I forgot where we were. I forgot what we were doing in the ring. I forgot what was coming next. I had been gladly exposing myself to repetitive brain trauma concussions for 19 years.

Members of the committee, this Friday night over a million kids will take to the football field. I am certain that radical measures are needed for football to continue safely.

REPMAXINE WATERS: No matter what kind of helmet you build, it is a dangerous sport.

UNIDENTIFIED: Co-captain of the Penn football team committed suicide. He had 20 areas of his brain that were falling apart, that were all going to keep spreading.

ANNOUNCER: Whoa! Primeau got levelled!

KEITH PRIMEAU: I know that I damaged my brain. I don’t know where I am 10 years from now. I don’t know where I am 20 years from now.

CINDY PARLOW-CONE: After I had my first concussion, every time I would do heading, I would see stars.

GIRL SOCCER PLAYER: I was just like, "Oh, my god, my head hurts so bad."

MOTHER 1: She didn’t pull herself out of the game. She didn’t tell the coach. And she didn’t tell us.

BOY HOCKEY PLAYER: I got hit from behind. People said I was on the ice for like four or five minutes. I only remember 20 seconds of it.

UNIDENTIFIED: That’s your brain. How much of you are you willing to put on the line for a game?

BOB COSTAS: But what’s the level of acceptableness? And what is the level of reasonable reform?

CHRIS NOWINSKI: If you only have one out of every hundred kids getting diagnosed with a concussion, you’re missing them, and your kids are at terrible risk.

MOTHER 2: I might look back and say I wished I had stopped him after this last concussion. He loved to play hockey, and we loved watching him play hockey.

MOTHER 3: I believe you just have to protect them as much as you can and—and pray.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of  Head Games, based on our guest Chris Nowinski’s book by the same title. Chris, journalist Paul Barrett has a new  articleout in  Businessweek called "Will Brain Injury Lawsuits Doom or Save the  NFL?" In it, he writes, quote, "New research suggests the peril players face may not be limited to car wreck hits. It may extend to the relentless, day-in-and-day-out collisions that are the essence of the game. If science one day determines [that] merely playing serious tackle football substantially increases the danger of debilitating brain disease—as smoking cigarettes makes lung cancer much more likely—it’s conceivable [that] the  NFL could go the way of professional boxing." Chris Nowinski, what’s your response?

CHRIS NOWINSKI: I think that’s an accurate portrayal of the situation. You know, football has a very short window to reform itself, especially at the youth level, so that we can feel comfortable exposing kids to this game. You know, pretty soon we’re going to be able to diagnose  CTE in living people. And the day we do that, and the day we scan a high school football team, and if we find 10, 20, 30 percent of kids with this degenerative brain disease before the age of 18, I think, you know, the games will have a very, very short future after that. So, you know, football needs to reform, and reform quickly.

 
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