Safer Football: An Oxymoron

Dr. Don Brady wrote an article stating that the term safer football is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as safer football. It simply does not exist.

Safer football

While officials may argue that there is safer football, medical professionals disagree.

The definition of safe, he writes, is “secure from danger, harm, or evil,” and “free from risk; sure: a safe bet.” Nothing about football is free from risk or a safe bet. Focusing on collegiate football, the overall injury rate is 8.1 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures, amounting to more than 41,000 injuries from 2004 to 2009, according to the NCAA.

“Football, by the nature of the contact/collision game, is a violent and aggressively played sport that creates a wide spectrum of injuries, and at times death, for its participants,” Brady writes. He also writes about the glorifying of such a contact sport on television with things like the big hit of the week.

There is also the issue of under diagnosed and undiagnosed mild traumatic brain injuries in any sport. The athletes want to get back into the game to play. So, they might minimize their injury just to get back in the game. Even with a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury, there are risks and complications that come in the following weeks and months. Proper treatment and follow-up care is essential.

Guttman (1988) wrote a critique of the sports culture in America. While it unites the masses, it is also responsible for the physical destruction of many athletes’ bodies.

Brady also touches on the minimization of injuries for the sake of participation in sports. Terms like safer football have been around for a very long time and minimize the risk involved in playing the sport.

Matt Chaney writes about the risks to the brain in American football dating back to the nineteenth century. Officials encourage athletes to play football because they say the risks are exaggerated and countermeasures are in place, making for a “safer football.” This concept has been promoted for more than a century in the game of American football. This term encompasses attempts at making the game safer such as protective helmets, rule changes, medical supervision, proper coaching, and safer colliding.

Brady asks the question, “Can a dangerous and violent game be made less dangerous or violent?” He does not think so. He writes that the injuries from football can be statistically predicted each year. They are not flukes. One young man’s death in November 2015 high school football was labeled a “fluke.” Luke Schemm collapsed on the field after being tackled during play. CNN reported 11 deaths related to high school football in the fall 2015 season.

While only a few die while playing each year, many more are seriously injured and brain damaged. As Brady writes, each death is clinically, humanly, and spiritually significant.

What is unknown is how many suicides in those who did not play professional sports are related to contact sports. Unless someone has been a high level football player, an autopsy for CTE is unlikely to be sought. We believe that hundreds if not thousands of suicides each year, in young people, are related to brain damage caused by athletic collisions.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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