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Guest Post: Head Games: Going to War with Your Body

2014 January 30

By: Carrie Truax

Early in the film, Head Games, narrator Christopher Nowinski says, in reference to playing football, “It’s the closest thing to being a warrior without having to actually go to war.” I found this quote to be very intriguing, because to me, American culture is vividly manifested in football. Sports culture rules social interaction. Especially in the last five years, there has been a shifted focus on honoring the military in sports. Nowinski’s comment about being a warrior called to mind some very important comparisons between the two contexts. Military personnel are sent into battle with extreme protection, and trained to withstand countless physical attacks. Professional football players enter the stadium with pounds of protective equipment, prepared to make tackle after tackle. With that being said, I do not believe football players are given the same education as soldiers in battle. Lifelong illnesses, physical complications, and eventually in some cases, even death are all a result of playing professional football. Head Games made this point, but I do think it underestimates that playing professional football actually is going to war -going to war against your own body.

In this documentary, doctors and ex-professional football players band together to make a clear argument for better protection, more education, and less romanticizing in professional sports in order to alleviate the exponentially growing number of head injuries. In my opinion, the most important argument made in this film is the need for greater education. Head Games stated that 14 out of the first 15 players they studied had developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which results from mutiple concussions or head injuries. All of these patients were studied post-mortem, as that is the only way to clearly detect CTE. A greater need for education from the National Football League, NCAA, Pop Warner, statewide high school associations, and little leagues is perhaps the only way for changes to be made. Education and awareness about the causes of repeated distress on the brain is the only way to fully combat this epidemic.

The documentary also states that rest appears to be the soultion, yet players do not get off the field in time or in some cases – at all. At times, players well-being can be sacrificed for the good of the team, especially if the future of the season is at stake. According to Head Games, players should demand appropriate rest time and withdraw from competition if continual head trauma ensues.

Once proper education and awarenss are fully developed and intertwined in the football atmosphere, players will be more apt to reveal when they are in pain. At the same time, coaches and parents alike will be more aware of symptoms or signs of head trauma and will be more likely to protect athletes.

Finally, sports have been heavily romanticized by the media, especially in the new media age. Sporting events are not only covered live by sport media companies, but also by ameatur sport journalists, better known as fans. Social media enables fans, athletes, coaches, and sports jouranlists alike to unite on a common front to idealize sports. Networks like ESPN and FoxSports have even a greater responsibility in the glamourization of sports. All of these entities combined are guilty of romanticizing sports. Because such a heavy influence is placed on competition, and the outcome of competition, little weight is placed on injury and the need for injury awareness. Once the leaders of professional sports leagues demand control, serious sporting injuries like concussions can begin to be remedied.

Head Games challenges its viewers to consider all circumstances related to the seriousness of concussions. From the professional ranks to little league, players should watch Head Games to become aware of the conditions surrounding head trauma. Although there have been great strides in the recent past to overcome these injuries, there is still work to be done. Most importantly, the leaders of sport organizations need to place as much value in head trauma education as they do ticket sales. Concussions and CTE are issues that can no longer be ignored. I commend advocates like Christopher Nowinski for taking the first step in player awareness and education.  There needs to more films like Head Games and organizations like the Sports Legacy Institute to provide adequate education and awareness, better protection, and less romanticizing in professional sports.

Carrie Truax, a native of Madison, IN, is a senior Communication Studies major at Clemson University. While at Clemson, Carrie has worked in the Athletic Communications Department for 3 years. She has also interned with the Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Falcons. Upon graduation, Carrie plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in sports public relations. 

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