~The Old Sachem~
You’ve all heard of the case of Damar Hamlin, a safety for the Buffalo Bills, who suffered cardiac arrest a couple of weeks ago. He’s home now from the hospital and watched his team beat the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. He was very fortunate that the NFL requires a tent with an x-ray machine along with special medical personnel, including an ambulance. Most football players are not as lucky. They often don’t have medical personnel to instantly attend to a drastic condition. And not all conditions are drastic. David Andrews, the Patriots center, said that he and most offensive players get mild concussions on each play. That is probably why many NFL players die before 60 years.
Doctor Joseph Torg, an orthopedic surgeon who died recently, back in the 1970s forced the NFL to stop the practice of spearing, where a defensive player lowers his head and uses it as a battering ram, which sometimes led to spinal cord injuries. In 1975 he told the Associated Press that the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations were derelict in their duty to protect football players. Both organizations and the NFL changed their practice and banned spearing. Dr. Torg’s research and his demands changed the results. From 1976 to 1984, the number of cervical spine fractures/dislocations fell from 110 to 42 and the number of players who suffered from quadriplegia fell from 34 to five.
The New England Patriots of 2001 are an example of the tragic results of the game. Seven members of this winning team died by the age of 50. A 2019 study of NFL players from 1979 to 2013 found that the average life span was 59.6 years. Some of the deceased Patriots were among the 24 2001 players who had symptoms of football-related brain injuries, according to their claims which were paid by the NFL to settle the claims. In 2005 ex-Patriot Ted Johnson was the first to pledge donation of their brains to Boston University researchers after the player’s death. The University has proclaimed that of the players studied, 99% had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain found in people with repeated head trauma.
It’s time that all levels of sports pay more attention to injury. The data of sports, such as soccer and field hockey, also show sizable head injuries. Teams must be more attentive to concussion and all other injuries that may last for the life of the player.
(Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports – and sometimes he opines on current or historical events or famous people.)