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Why the NFL Should Embrace the Controversy Caused by 'Concussion'

The new movie 'Concussion,' starring Will Smith, has created a nationwide discussion on football and brain injuries. Despite the title, many players in the NFL have brain injuries more serious than a mere concussion. The movie is a result of the long-term controversy regarding the NFL. After so many high-profile cases of players having life-long concussions and brain injuries as a result of being part of the league, many people are wondering what the NFL could have done, and whether action to prevent brain injury is long overdue.

Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born neuropathologist who worked in a morgue. In 2002, Dr. Omalu was performing an autopsy on Mike Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steelers player, when he noticed unusual signs of brain damage. Over time, Dr. Omalu carried out similar autopsies that revealed repeated concussions can cause a degenerative brain disease, which was later named chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE causes erratic behavior, cognitive problems and severe mental health issues. Some football players committed suicide, leaving behind grieving families. Alarmed at the developing situation, the NFL sought to bury this problem and avoid national media attention. Despite its efforts to avoid a controversy, the NFL eventually paid out $1 billion to thousands of former players as part of a settlement.

CTE is Widespread in Professional Football

A recent study by Boston University and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suggests CTE is still a major problem for the NFL. The results of the study show 95.6 percent of deceased NFL players tested positive for CTE.

The NFL has both a moral and legal obligation to protect its players. Instead of becoming part of the solution, the NFL has allegedly continued to distance itself from this problem. For example, ESPN and other press outlets recently suggested the NFL has refused to fund a Boston University study on CTE. Such studies could grant the medical community and public a greater understanding of how this brain disease develops, and possibly create methods for lessening its severity or preventing it altogether.

If the Boston University and VA study can tell us anything, it is that this problem is not going to go away for the NFL any time soon, and it has more to lose by not confronting this issue by playing a larger role in protecting its players.

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