Concussions impact lives well beyond the person with the injury; the risk is in changing the lives of loved ones.
In July of 2014 over four thousand former NFL Players reached a tentative settlement in their civil lawsuit regarding concussions. The settlement, still pending approval, includes $10 million for research on concussions and $75 million for baseline testing, and was to pay out $870 million dollars. Putting aside the fact that many believe the overall settlement is far too small given the magnitude of the impact of the concussion problem in the NFL, the real question is, how do you replace the time spent lying in bed, as your kids are desperate for your affection?
Recently I read an article about Johan Franzen, a member of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, and a man who has suffered from concussions. “To see the disappointment in their eyes when (they ask), ‘Dad, why can’t you play with us?’ It breaks your heart,” Franzen said in an article for the Detroit Free Press. The real problem has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with priorities.
Hockey players, football players, race car drivers, prize fighters, particularly in view of the recent revelations about the extend of concussions in football, they all know the risk of what they do. One unexpected cross-check, a cheap shot in the ring, an extra lap without taking tires, not calling a fair catch on a punt return, or a host of other possible scenarios puts athletes at severe risk of a debilitating injury. Those are the scenarios these athletes have calculated as a possibility, and the risk of injury within those “less likely scenarios” is worth the potential reward for greatness. The problem lies in the second- and third-order effects.
The topic of concussions leaves me thinking about the purpose of life. Each person’s purpose is different, and we all play a different role in the human experience, but those of us with children have learned that one important purpose is to be the best parents possible. Our purpose is to provide for our children and give them the best chance of succeeding in this world, and that starts with love and affection. It starts with being a role model.
We often state the claim those with fame are to be role models for America’s children, but we often forget about the ‘policy makers’ within the organizations creating the fame. A NASCAR driver rarely can affect policy within the sport. A basketball player in the NCAA has little impact on the rules for contact under the basket within the sport of college basketball, but yet we don’t talk about the policy makers as being role models.
The effect concussions have had on Johan Franzen are not linear. They don’t stop with his inability to compete on the ice for three periods. The impact continues on to his children. And it will continue to his grandchildren. The chances of Franzen having long-term cognitive problems increases exponentially each time he takes a blow to the head. By the time Franzen’s children are in high school or college, it’s unclear how he will function on a cognitive level. It’s impossible to know what he will or will not be able to do in effort to support his children. This is the true effect concussions have on athletes.
So, why do we keep doing it? Why do athletes continue to do the things that caused them to get injured in the first place?
Franzen has a contract with the Red Wings through 2020. When he signed the contract in 2009, it was an extension worth $43.5 million. I’m sure in 2009 that $43.5 million was a huge number, but what will that $43.5 million cost him?
Athletes who are playing a professional sport will tell you they are living their dream. Playing a sport in front of thousands of people and making millions of dollars, but the growing understanding of the long-term effects of head injuries, begs the question, how much money is your brain worth? How much money is quality time with your children worth?
These sports, like many activities we engage in, are risk-reward propositions. The question is: at what point does the risk outweigh the reward?
Photo: Flickr/Elizabeth Murphy
For more Good Men Project Sports coverage of the recent concussion-related issues coming out of the NFL and youth sports, check out:
- Ex-NFL Player Talks Brain Trauma, Greed and Blame: Part II (November 18, 2014)
- Ex-NFL Player Talks Brain Trauma, Greed and Blame: Part 1 (November 17, 2014)
- Is the NFL’s Culture of Violence Causing a Crisis of American Masculinity? (November 10, 2014)
- Athletes’ ‘Killer Instinct’ – In Words. In Pictures. And In Your Face (November 5, 2014)
- High School Football Deaths Stir Memories of Ugly Youth Football Moments (October 10, 2014)
- The End of Football for Men and Boys? Readers and Experts Discuss Where We Go From Here (Oct. 5, 2014)
- The NFL’s Concussion Problem Just Got A Lot Worse (Sept. 30, 2014)
- Roger S. Goodell, Will You Please Go Now? (Sept. 22, 2014)
- We May Be Right. We May Be Crazy: Musings on the NFL’s Violence Problem (Sept. 16, 2014)
- The National Football League: Too Big To Fail? (Sept. 13, 2014)