The National Football League, better known as the NFL, is the most competitive and entertaining league for professional football. For the 31st year in a row, the Harris poll found that the NFL is the most popular sports league in America among adult males. According to the poll, 31% of all male adults in America prefer the NFL over any other sports league. The closest competitor to the NFL is Major League Baseball (MLB), which received only 16% of the votes.

With the game evolving for the better and its popularity increasing, even overseas, it seems that the NFL is only heading in an upward direction. However, what is not heading in an upward direction is the league’s reputation, which has been questioned numerous times by critics and the media.

Players’ off the eld antics are not the only issue, their safety on it is also a huge concern for the league. There is no doubt that the sport of football is a “violent” sport and playing it takes a toll on a human being’s body. Football builds on a culture of toughness. It is said that that you need to be tough to survive football.

Stone Phillips Reports quoted Hall of Fame running back, Eric Dickerson as saying “You are supposed to be tough. You are supposed to play through pain. You are not supposed to cry. We are taught that early on in the game as kids. Tough sport. Brutal sport. It’s like the gladiator. People want to see the big hits. They wind up on Sports Center. And as a player, you don’t want to admit you are injured,” when asked about playing through injuries. This type of attitude and approach from players towards football may seem admirable in the moment, but quite frankly is ignorant in the long run. One of the biggest issues injury wise in the sport is how exposed the players are to concussions.

A study conducted by researchers with the Department of Veteran A airs and Boston University discovered that a total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players were positive to a brain disease common to a concussion known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. That is an astonishing 96% of the players they examined. Not only that, but in their lab they also found CTE in the brain tissues of 131 out of a total of 165 individuals who before their deaths played football either professionally, semi-professionally, or during high school and college.

CTE is believed to occur after numerous head traumas, and can result in memory loss, depression, and dementia. They estimate that 79% of all football players will eventually suffer from this condition. The players that are most exposed to CTE are offensive and defensive lineman as they are exposed to physical contact every play. This was backed up by the lab’s findings, as 40% of all players tested positive either played offensive or defensive lineman.

Anatomical view of a concussion. Photo taken from Wikimedia.

The toll of numerous concussions was never as apparent as in the case of Steelers Hall of Fame Center Mike Webster. Webster was a former nine time pro bowl player and the player that had played more games than any other player in franchise history; 220 of them. It was known at the time that players had a hard time after retirement, however Webster’s case was extreme.

After 17 seasons in the NFL, Webster once known as ‘Iron Mike,’ had lost complete control of his body that was once deemed invincible. He became forgetful, often forgetting to eat. He became depressed and suffered through many physical problems, including almost losing his ability to hear. One night he urinated in the oven, frightening his wife and kids. He also needs to taze himself into unconsciousness just to get some sleep. “He was too sick to come to my birthday party. He didn’t even call me and I was mad,” his son Garrett Webster recalled to ESPN.

All of these issues lead to end of his 23 year marriage with Pamela Webster. With no conscious of himself, Webster was dead in 2002, at the age of just 50. The tragic death of Webster brought national attention to the issue of concussions in the NFL. Much needed changes were implemented to insure the safety of the players. The same helmet to helmet contact penalties that fans complain about, are there just there to insure other players don’t end up like Webster.

There is no doubt that new concussion protocols have improved the safety of players on the field. Though, for football to be as safe as possible, players must admit when they are hurt. It is not courage to play with an injury; it is stupidity. The players must let go of the whole idea of “toughness” and “pride” that makes them want to play through a concussion. I can’t understand why a game is worth your well being in the future. After all, admitting when you are hurt does not make you a less of a man, it just makes your chances of becoming paralyzed in the future a whole lot less.

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