LOS ANGELES — A horrifying incident on the football field has raised big questions about one of America’s favorite pastimes.
On Monday night, 24-year-old Bills' safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, shocking players and audiences across the country.
Hamlin was in critical condition for several days, but doctors now say he is showing signs of remarkable improvement. He remains in the ICU but is reportedly awake and able to write and speak.
Hamlin’s severe injury has shone a spotlight on the sport’s human toll. Filmmaker, journalist and former football player Peter Landesman spoke with “Inside the Issues" host Alex Cohen about the dangerous health repercussions that football players are facing each time they step on the field.
“I have to say it's remarkable that it doesn't happen more often every week, multiple times a week, just because of the speed and condition of these players,” Landesman said.
He said the aggressiveness of the sport inevitably results in irreversible injuries over the course of a professional football career. Landesman experienced the dangers of the sport first hand after playing football throughout his youth and for two years in college.
In 2015, he wrote and directed the film “Concussion” starring Will Smith. The movie tells the true story of a forensic pathologist who discovers how brain degeneration disproportionately impacts football players. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, is caused by repeated head trauma and results in behavioral problems, mood swings and Alzheimer-like symptoms.
“It turns players into violent dementia-ridden, angry, confused people who often die alone in hotel rooms or in apartments. Many commit suicide. This is what happens to football players after the lights turn off and when the games are over and when a lot of these players are released. It’s an epidemic, and it’s not even quiet anymore,” Landesman noted.
The National Football League has adopted new rules to protect players after concussions occur. After an athlete shows signs of head trauma, they must be cleared by a team physician and the independent neurological consultant on site. But even though the NFL has established these concussion protocols, Landesman argues they do not protect players from long-term brain damage.
“It's not really the concussions that are killing these players, it's the thousands and tens of thousands of sub-concussive hits to the head they take over the course of a career from elementary to high school to college to pros,” he added.
Landesman notes the public is also at fault for continuing to tune in in droves to watch aggression and violence play out on the field each week. He says the NFL has done a remarkable job putting together a weekly spectacle, but that if people continue to put money and attention in the sport, tragic injuries and death will continue to rock the sport.
“If you’re going to play football, this is going to happen to you. They are putting a lot of money and effort and optics into trying to fix the game. And again, no judgment because I used to watch the game. I used to play the game. Now, I can’t watch it anymore without really having a sense of what’s really happening.”
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