Football – it’s time to face the facts head on


By Sam Marston and Michael Pisinger

In recent years, there's been a lot of research surrounding the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or colloquially known as ‘punch drunk syndrome’ a connotation referencing its prevalence in boxing. Most often we hear the term linked to sports known for their brutality; boxing, UFC, MMA, rugby, american football... the list goes on. However, people rarely associate brain injury with football, but that is all about to change. The University of Boston, known for its research into the topic, has set up a ‘brain bank’ where deceased ex-footballers can volunteer to send their brains post-mortem. So far the university have received 425 brains from autopsy, 270 of them showed evidence of CTE. The general concensus seems to be that such injury is caused by repetitive heading of the ball, not the occasional concussion sustained by accident.

    When one thinks about injuries in football, CTE is perhaps fairly far down on the list. The first things that spring to mind are Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, both of whom suffered metatarsal fractures. Unfortunately Wayne recovered in time for the World Cup only to be red-carded in the quarter-final for stamping on the foot of Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalo. A bulldog with a broken foot, vindictively trying to level the playing field. Nevertheless, even a bulldog should be made informed when his profession comes prepackaged with major risks of brain damage. Unlike a fractured metatarsal or a torn ACL, CTE doesn’t share the same optimistic prognosis. CTE is not only associated with bleak diagnoses such as dementia, Alzheimers and Parkinsons, but also with other conditions of deteriorated mental well-being such as depression. Something all long-term players should be made aware of.

    Luckily, there are ways we can prevent CTE from occurring. For one, we can educate. Not just athletes, but more importantly children and their parents. What they need to know is that repetitive head trauma, not just acute only, causes damage to neurons. Once they know this vital information, then it will be easier to implement changes preventing CTE. Another way we can prevent this disorder is by improving equipment. This can be achieved in a variety ways. Firstly, add helmets which would absorb some shock from the ball, and therefore reduce trauma. Secondly, improve the material of the ball. With new technology it may be possible to make the ball behave the same when kicked, but transfer less energy to the player's head. These first two methods may require a bit of financing, but there is another measure which can be taken right now and won't cost anything: change the rules! We advocate that children under the age of 12 should be forbidden from heading the ball in practice, following America’s lead where such laws already exist.

     Now, some may ask "Why should I care whether football is safe or not?" Well, if you care about your health, your family's health or the health of your favorite athletes, then you should be interested in this topic. Moreover, this is a rare example of a preventable disorder. If effective measures are taken, then in the future the incidence of CTE and other neurodegenerative diseases associated with repetitive head trauma will be much lower. Not only will these people be happier, because they suffer from depression, aggression, etc., but they will also save a lot of money in the long run. Healthy people do not require expensive treatment, and prevention is the cheapest ways to deal with diseases. By taking a closer look at heading the ball in football and modifying it to make it safer, we will make everybody happier, and potentially save many lives and a lot of money.

       A few common arguments tend to resurface in opposition to our propositions. Some say that we’re being overly protective. If we emphasize safety too much, that could make the sport boring, and no one would wants this to happen. People may stop watching, and thus there would be no more financial revenue from football games. We don't think that's the case. If you look at racing for example, the safety there has been vastly improved throughout history. Nowadays, it's less common to see terrible accidents, because of new rules and technology that protects the drivers. Are Formula One, NASCAR etc. bankrupt? No! Also, what if heading the ball is a vital part of the sport? Could it still be called ‘football’ if there was an outright ban of heading the ball? Football has been played the same way for years now, so why should we change something that works? Well we added goal-line technology, and so far the backlash has been minimal. Also, if you remove heading the ball, then the word 'football' makes more sense, because you will then have to use your feet more! Lastly, there haven't been many studies focusing on heading the ball in football, so how do we know for certain that heading the ball over a long period of time causes CTE?  Well, this is exactly the reason why we want to discuss this topic: to gain interest that would fuel the creation of new studies which would prove our point: chronic head injury causes CTE!

    It is unclear exactly how many times and with what force it is necessary to head the football before developing CTE. What is clear however, is that such correlation exists. Nobody one wants future generations to be so molly-coddled that outdoor sports are taken off the curriculum altogether, but lay-people need to be aware of the risks. Furthermore, research into what is globally considered the most popular sport must be undertaken so that professionals and amateurs alike be aware the risks of the worlds favourite passtime. This is why we would like you to learn more about this topic on and spread the word, so that we can considerably improve the quality of life of all athletes, amateur or professional, in the world! Nobody wants to become a trembling mess in the future that could be prevented because of a simple step: make football safer, especially for your head!



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