Head Injuries in the NFL and Beyond

There are few things more satisfying than watching a rival quarterback receive a blind-side sack or seeing your team’s DB lay out a receiver on an incomplete pass in slow-mo. Of course, this is only true as long as the recipient is able to get up and walk off the field, as nobody would actually wish physical injury on another person no matter how hated the opponent. Beyond their immediate well-being, though, physical health needs to be thought about in longer-term scenarios, particularly on the topic that has recently received some much-deserved attention: head injuries.

In 1994, the NFL began a comprehensive clinical research study of mild traumatic brain injury analyzing data between 1996 and 2001 by gathering information from team physicians, studying game video, and experimenting the biomechanics of an impact. Though useful in terms of understanding the injuries themselves and improving protective equipment, the study was inconclusive in establishing a link between football and later head/brain injury. Since the investigation, the NFL has received ample criticism for not adequately addressing the possible link between football-related head injuries and mental decline later in life, and the debate finally came to fruition; several weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to investigate football-related head injuries and their long-term effect on the brain. Testimony was received from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, members of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, former football players, and several prominent neurosurgeons. The committee concluded that the NFL needs to take better responsibility for its players given the organization’s profitability and exposure, and research needs to focus on the later cognitive effects of sustained head impacts, such as dementia, depression, and mental degradation.

You may ask, why am I focusing on a workforce of some 2,000 active professional football players and 10,000 retired players? Why would a Congressional Committee and numerous media outlets invest their time and money into the health of this handful of millionaires? I would answer you that the NFL is the spearhead of sports behavior for millions of athletes from the college level to high school to peewee football, and the organization should act as an industry leader promoting healthy social norms. I would also answer you that this subject matter can be used as an example for employee health across a spectrum of ‘risky’ employment, of which men are much more likely to be a part. Be it a coal miner, construction worker, military officer, or any other paying job subject to physical hazard, it is important to understand how these professions affect the mental and physical health of the workforce. Employers have a responsibility to recognize and protect the individuals sustaining their business, and foster research of safe and health workplace practice.


House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Legal Issues Relating to Football Head Injuries, 10/28/2009, Hearing Information at https://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/hear_091028.html

ELLIOT J. PELLMAN, M.D., AND DAVID C. VIANO, DR. MED., PH.D. Summary of the research conducted by the National Football League’s Committee on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Neurosurgery Focus, 2006, 21, (4) E12 1-10 https://thejns.org/doi/pdf/10.3171/foc.2006.21.4.13

McKee AC, Cantu RC, Nowinski CJ, Hedley-Whyte ET, Gavett BE, Budson AE, Santini VE, Lee H-Y, Kubilus CA, Stern RA. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes: Progressive tauopathy after repetitive head injury. J Neuropath Exp Neurol, 2009, 68(7): 709.735. https://www.bu.edu/alzresearch/team/faculty/documents/CTE-JNENJuly.pdf

Armin Brott

View posts by Armin Brott
Armin Brott is the proud father of three, a former U.S. Marine, a best-selling author, radio host, speaker, and one of the country’s leading experts on fatherhood. He writes frequently about fatherhood, families, and men's health. Read more about Armin or visit his website, mrdad.com. You can also connect via social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest,  and Linkedin.


  1. TheresaDecember 14, 2009

    Great post. This is definitely something that needs more research. Especially with the TBI that we are seeing in those returning from military duty

  2. steveJanuary 7, 2010


    I’m a mother of a 16year old son who loves football and basketball.

    His last season he had suffered his 2nd GRADE 3 CONCUSSION in a 11 month period.

    He was being told that if he got one more concussion, he would never be able to play sports again. I started to do major research on concussions and mouth guards when I came across your website. My son was fitted for a Maher mouth guard right before the football season begun. In the first game he was hit very hard and as a mom.I was holding my breath to see if he had to come out of the game. He got right up and continued playing. After the game I asked him about that hit and he said “Mom I can’t believe I didn’t feel a thing”

    Which ,as the season continued, he said it has helped unbelievable! I have parents coming to talk to me when their child gets a concussion to see what I have learned and what steps for protection I have taken. I truly believe that the Maher mouth guard is 100% the reason my son can continue to play sports. Thank you!

    Roseann Taylor

    Lombard , IL

    story links



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