Could the Rise of Concussions in Football mean the Downfall of the Sport?

I wrote this paper for my grad school class on Monday. I will quickly admit that three pages doesn’t do the subject justice. It is an interesting subject that has been on the rise in the news lately with football league after football league setting new concussion precautions.

This is something I intend to write more about. I find great interest in it. Without any further ado here is what I wrote:

Is the Occurence of Concussions Getting to the Point Where Football’s Place in the World Should be Evaluated

With the start of a new football season there is a new emphasis placed on diagnosing and recovery time for concussions. From the NFL to pee wee football leagues, new precautions have been added for concussions. The days of Brett Favre getting a concussion and coming back in two plays later to throw a touchdown pass that he can’t remember doing(Borzi, 2004) are over. As technology in football has improved the game with better equipment, bigger, faster and stronger athletes and improved strategies the number of concussions seems to be on the rise. But have the number of concussion in football really gone up or is it that we finally understanding the human brain better and can better diagnose concussions. And if concussion and their symptoms are growing to terrifying levels will football continue as the sport of choice for young boys or will it be just too dangerous to warrant competing?

In a study in the state of Minnesota in 1983 researchers looked at the number of concussions incurred by high school football players. Using roughly 20 percent of the schools in the state, researchers were able to get a large sampling size of football players with 3,802 completing the survey (Goodwin Gerberich, Priest, Boen, Straub, & Maxwell, 1983). The survey took a basic question determining an injury was any loss of time participating in any regular activity. From there the results went to narrow down the injuries with a focus on questions about concussions or concussion like symptoms.

The results of the study found 74 concussions and 507 additional cases with concussion like symptoms but were not diagnosed as a concussion (Goodwin Gerberich, et al., 1983 p. 1371). With the diagnosed concussion and concussion like symptoms added together Goodwin Gerberich, et al. 19 percent of high school football players in the state of Minnesota suffered a concussion in the 1977 season (1983).

That study was done nearly three decades ago. With more advanced technology, it would suggest that concussions have gone down but recent articles in the media have suggested that the number of concussions is on the rise. In a 2007 study researchers looked at the amount of concussions and injuries total among high school and college students for the 2005-2006 season (Gessel, Fields, Collins, Dick, & Comstock, 2007). Using that data from 100 high schools studied and extrapolating it to every high school football team nationwide they estimated 55,007 concussions occurred during the 2005 season (p. 497).

According to data from the National Federation of High School Associations there were 1,072,948 participants in the 2005-2006 school year (2009). With the estimate of 55,007 concussions from the Gessel, et al. study in 2007 that means 19 percent of athletes suffered a concussion during the season. The same number as reported in the Goodwin Gerberich, et al. study in 1983. This provides evidence that supports that concussions are not on the rise in the country with two studies nearly a quarter century a part showing the same number of concussions.

The Goodwin Gerberich, et al. study took a much broader definition of a concussion very similar to the one used today to determine who really had a concussion instead of the reported numbers using the diagnosis techniques used in 1977 (1983, p. 1371). So while there are more concussions reported now the true number of concussions doesn’t appear to have changed.

While the number of concussions doesn’t appear to have changed, what we know about concussions and its long term affects have changed. In 2009 an article in The New York Times pointed out new research that brain damage commonly seen in former boxers was showing up in former NFL players and even some who stopped playing football in college (Schwarz). According to the article a study of eight former NFL players who died between the ages of 36 and 52 showed all eight suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that is only known to be caused by head trauma. The disease while affecting the cortex of the brain kills brain cells used in executive function and mood moderation (Schwarz, 2009).

The parallel of the injury being commonly found in boxers is important. The thought of whether or not football should be played seems farfetched but boxing was once a common intercollegiate sport. The University of Wisconsin was a powerhouse winning eight national titles. In 1960, a senior boxer for the Badgers named Charlie Mohr died after a fight at the NCAA Championships. Soon after professors at the University of Wisconsin rallied and had boxing dropped as an intercollegiate sport. The NCAA followed suit before the 1961 season (Weinreb, 2010). Boxing has already seen its demise. Football may be staring at the same situation in the future. It is no lie that football is brutal. The Sports Legacy Institute and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy are still researching the link between football players and CTE (Schwarz, 2009). When all the facts about post-concussion symptoms come to light, will people still think the risk of injury is worth it to play football?

While concussions have been growing in the number reported their true number appears to be staying the same. New technology has had little impact in keeping the brains of football players safe. New information about the affects of football playing years after the helmet and shoulder pads have been removed has raised concerns about how much damage football really does. Boxing went from a sport commonly found in schools across America to something relegated to background. While it still may be a long ways off football may be headed to a similar fate.


Borzi, Peter (2004, Oct. 4). Favre’s Concussion adds to Packers Woes. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Gessel, L.M., Fields, S.K., Collins, C.L., Dick, R.W., & Comstock, R.D. (2007). Concussions Among United States High School and Collegiate Athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 42(4) 495-503. Retrieved from PubMed Central database.

Goodwin Gerberich, S., Boen, J., Straub, C., & Maxwell, R. (1983). Concussion Incidences and Severity in Secondary School Varsity Football Players. American Journal of Public Health, 73(12), 1370. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database.

National Federation of High Schools Associations (2009). Participation Statistics: 2005-2006, Football-11. Retrieved from

Schwarz, Allen (2009, Oct. 21). Concussion Trauma Risk Seen in Amateur Athlete. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Weinreb, Michael (2010, Apr. 16). The tragic story of Charlie Mohr. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved from


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Buford Minard on August 6, 2012 at 1:33 am

    Concussion can be damaging to the brain specially if the head has been hit so hard. It is always advisable to get an x-ray if you have been hit on the head.;`’;.

    Hope This Helps!


    • Actually the X-Ray would be of no use in determining a concussion. It would check for a skull fracture but not a concussion. An MRI might help if the brain injury is severe but most concussions wouldn’t register on an MRI scan.


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