NFL Football: Can’t Look (Away)

In Brain Injury by Emerson Jane BrowneLeave a Comment


Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson dazzles even in defeat to Falcons

Rookie Russell Wilson passed for 385 yards, nearly leading the Seahawks to the NFC Championship Game. The Seahawks overcame a 20-point deficit to take the lead late against Atlanta, but lost when the Falcons made a field goal in the final seconds. 1 2 

I went to my first football game when I was 5 years old. I was raised on the Cleveland Browns  and now live in Seattle Seahawk’s territory.

And I write about brain injuries.  

I have to admit that there is a part of me that still loves the game.  I also have to admit that I now have trouble watching it. I know too much.

With every hard hit I think about the acceleration/deceleration, the G-forces, and the torque on the players brain. With every hard hit I think about the cumulative damage to the brain and the high probability that these vibrant young men will suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E), the progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by the build up of tau protein in the brain.

I am not alone in these feelings. Ann McKee, director of neuropathology for the VA New England Healthcare System and a codirector of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, is the leading authority on the long-term consequences of repetitive head injury from football and she also loves the sport.

“I love it — I love football,” she says, her face falling like the pocket collapsing around her favorite quarterback. “I’d like to put everything I know about it in another room when I’m watching it. But it’s hard to do it through the whole game. I have enormous admiration for the physical athleticism and ability. It’s strategic but requires skill that most people don’t have. I get extremely caught up in it. At the end of the game I think, How could I watch this?”  3

I feel the same way. Maybe I even feel worse.

I would love to be able to enjoy watching football again. But that can only happen when enough changes have been made to make the game safer.  

Helmet Research & the NFL

Thinking about this tonight sent me on a journey to find out more about helmet research.  I found quite a bit of interesting information.  Instead of repackaging the information here I am going to provide links to some good articles and videos.

  1. The most interesting one on helmet research is a 9 minute video on ESPN that shows the research Kevin Guskiewicz is doing at the University of North Carolina and Virginia Tech using the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS).  The video then continues with Hines Ward, retired wide receiver for Pittsburg Steelers, discussing why he thinks it is a bad idea for the NFL to use the HITS. I can’t say that I agree with him, but I do think he raised some valid concerns.
  2. The video was part of a whole series that ESPN did this past year called “Football at a Crossroads,” which examines health issues surrounding football at all levels of the sport, from youth football, high school and college football, through semipro and professional football. The above video is also at this link followed by a good article about who is who in the research.   Universities nationwide take the lead in researching concussion’s causes, effects.  In the sidebar to the right there is a list of all the articles and videos in the series.
  3. Robert Cantu, Co-Director Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Boston University School of Medicine has a great pdf on his site called The Ultimate Penalty. This pdf is beautifully laid out with great photography and good written content.

The United States of Football

  1. Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting New Yorker article, Offensive Play.  The article is from late 2009 but still quite current.  Gladwell compares Football to Dogfighting (in the wake of Michael Vicks suspension from and reinstatement back into the NFL) and Nascar racing (following changes that vastly improved drivers survival rates from crashes).  It is a good read.
  2. The United States Of Football is a movie.  I have not seen it but it sounds good.  A father, who has trained his son all his life to play football, pauses when his son turns twelve and is about to play tackle football. Because of all the information out about the health and safety of the game, journalist Sean Pamphilon went out on a mission to decide when it was appropriate to let his son play the game he’s loved all his life. When Pamphilon wants an answer he doesn’t just Google it, he gets on a plane or in his car and goes after it.  What results is a two-year search, where Pamphilon travels the country taking a thought provoking look at America’s true National Pastime. 4

How do you feel about watching football? Did you play football? Please comment below.


  1.  O’Neil, Danny. “Seahawks Rookie Russell Wilson Dazzles Even in Defeat to Falcons.”The Seattle Times. N.p., 13 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Jan. 2013. <>.
  2.  (AP Photo/David Goldman)  Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons’ Akeem Dent (52) during the first half of an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, in Atlanta.
  3.  Leavy, Jane. “Neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee has been accused of killing football, but she may be the sport’s only hope.” Grantland. ESPN, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2013. <>.
Emerson Jane Browne
I am Emerson Jane Browne. I write about Brains, Apps, & Productivity, and many other aspects of Life. I speak to TBI support groups, speak and teach workshops at tech, music, and writer conferences. I consult with organizations on strategic planning and building a strong community.