Today, Superbowl LII captivates a global audience with all the pomp and excess that America is renowned for. 92 men don body armour and helmets, clashing and tackling their opponents for hours in pursuit of glory. But it isn't the players on the opposite end of the field that are the most dangerous though. There's a more insidious threat that hangs over the entire day: Concussions and the long-term effects on player's brains.
The Superbowl is a celebration of all things American, a time for the country to celebrate their sports, beers, food and entertainment. It seems to truly stop the nation, with around 112 millions viewers tuning into the game - whether that be for the sport itself, the half-time show or all the adverts in between.
There's no denying that the sport of American Football is harsh, physical and brutal. Watch 30 seconds of the Superbowl today and you can see that. Yet it has taken many years for the inherent risks to player's cognition and brain health to be fully understood.
Over the last ten years, an ever-growing body of scientific literature has demonstrated that ex-players of the NFL have a high incidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that slowly sees brain tissue destroyed. The cause of CTE is understood to be continuous mild head trauma.wat CTE causes harmful proteins to build up on the brain over time, as a result of continued mild trauma. It progresses slowly, so symptoms usually begin to appear eight to ten years after the damage has begun.
The symptoms include dizziness, headaches and short-term memory loss but, over time, can result in depression, aggressive behaviour and an inability to concentrate.
Last year, a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analysed 202 deceased American Football players brains, finding that 177 of those brains showed signs of CTE. The incidence of the disease is so high that some have begun to question whether NFL should be played at all.
Indeed, this year's half-time show performer - Justin Timberlake - stated earlier in the week that he wouldn't want his three year old to participate in the sport.
The NFL, in light of these more recent findings, has placed a greater emphasis on concussions and preventing players from returning to the field once they've been hit. However, this concussion protocol has been questioned multiple times throughout the year for being applied inconsistently - sometimes players look like they're absolutely out, but are somehow allowed to return to play.
If you wanted to seem this grim, 'violent ballet' in action, the short film below - Concussion Protocol - chronicles every concussion sustained in the NFL this year. It's impossible to look away and, at the same time, completely
Here's every concussion in the NFL this year pic.twitter.com/zyzwciboSj
— Josh Begley (@joshbegley) February 1, 2018
The research seems to be pointing to a fairly clear conclusion: The NFL - and by extension, the Superbowl - can be very dangerous and may increase the risk of traumatic brain injuries. How the sport adapts to deal with concussions and players with CTE will only continue to be more carefully scrutinised in the future.
Worth remembering when you're shouting at the top of your lungs for the Eagles to Fly.
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