September 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

The end of the NFL? The “new” epidemic of head injuries in pro and child athletes

Welcome to the era of the brain injury epidemic. 

It’s always been an epidemic, but we as a society are only realizing it now.

Remember those old anti-drug commercials that aired on TV I think in the 80s saying “This is your brain on drugs”? They showed an egg frying in a pan (see video below).

Turns out that what should really have been our focus in regards to preserving the brains of our kids and adults alike is avoiding head injuries.

There is a growing awareness that head injuries, including those that at the time seem to be of the kind that one can simply “shake off” can have devastating effects on cognition later in life. Such injuries may be the result of playing sports such as football or soccer. Certainly engaging in boxing for any extended period of time may be unwise as well.

Today we see a lawsuit filed by 2,000 NFL players against the league for an alleged cover-up of the dangers of professional football specifically in regard to head injuries.

This is serious and may be the beginning of the end of the NFL as we know it.

The suicide of Junior Seau was a defining moment in my opinion that really woke up and shook up people to the decades-long apparent reality that head injuries such as those suffered in the NFL (I’m talking about “everyday” kinds, not those kind of devastating hits in sports news clips) damage the brain in critical ways.

Kids are particularly sensitive to head injuries and folks are now realizing that many more kids are getting concussions, often multiple concussions, from playing sports other than football. Girls and younger children may be especially sensitive to brain injury accompanying what is outwardly called a “concussion”.

I’m hopeful that one day stem cell-based therapies may prove helpful for treating acute and chronic brain injury, but for now the priority must be prevention and education.