Football is brutally physical, with physical collisions between players a regular part of the game. Only recently has research conclusively shown, with some help from the courts, that playing football for a long period of time often leads to serious head and bodily injuries.
In the course of a regular game, football players undergo multiple collisions involving their heads. The exact number and severity of these collisions varies on playing position and other factors, but concussion is an ongoing risk. When you get a concussion, the brain’s cells are stretched or injured in a way that can affect your mental and physical well-being. In 2007, a United States Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s 2005 ruling that long-time center Mike Webster’s brain damage was caused by playing football. Such damage can be avoided if players have the proper amount of rest after a concussion, but many coaches and players operate under a code of toughness. The result can be brain damage, with affects felt immediately in the form of dizziness, imbalance and head pain, as well as later in the form of balance issues, clinical depression and more.
The number of blunt force injuries a football player accumulates throughout his career can lead to head and brain injuries that affect a player’s mental disposition. Some of the physical damage to the brain can lead to depression. In some cases, such as that of Andre Waters, depression leads to suicide. A 2007 study by Julian Bailes, et al. found that the risk of depression in retired players was twice as high in those who had suffered concussions. That number went up to three times the risk in former players who had suffered five concussions or more.
Wear and Tear
Like all professional athletes who play sports involving a large amount of physical contact, football players are at risk for injuries during and after their careers. The more they strained their bodies playing, the more repercussions they face. Flexing, pushing off, and making hard contact taxes your joints, ligaments and muscles. This can lead to immediate injuries like strained muscles and broken bones, as well as later complications like severe arthritis and joint pain.
Obesity, Sleep Apnea, Diabetes and More
Football players -- who may upwards of 300 pounds --often have to do deal with the side effects of their weight long after they’ve stopped playing. Sleep apnea, for example, affects football players both mid- and post-career. The best way to treat sleep apnea is to lose weight, but players who are encouraged to remain large for their position, or players who cannot lose weight once they retire, are at serious risk for sleep apnea. A 2003 New England Journal of Medicine study found that 14 percent of the active players in the NFL had sleep apnea. Similarly, the consequences of obesity, such as diabetes, may affect heavier football players long after they retire. These players are also at risk for cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Department of Exercise and Sports Medicine
- “The New York Times”; Former Players Dealing With Lingering Health Issues; Clifton Brown; February 2007
- University of Washington; Long-Term Effects of Concussions in Football Players; Ellen Kuwana; May 2004
- Harvard Health Blog; Concussions in Football; Michael Craig Miller, M.D.; August 2010
- Journal of the American Medical Association”; Concussion in Sports; Sharon Parmet; 2003