I’m a football fan, but this is serious business. The industry as a whole — from the NFL down to the PeeWee leagues — is going to have to address it through rules changes, medical changes and equipment changes. I’ve long wondered whether part of the answer might be softer equipment — fewer and softer pads, etc. — because in the modern game they’ve become less like protective devices and more like weapons to use against the opponent.
When a survey commissioned by the National Football League recently indicated that dementia or similar memory-related diseases had been diagnosed in its retired players vastly more often than in the national population, the league claimed the study was unreliable.
But confidential data from the N.F.L.’s dementia assistance plan strongly corroborates claims of a link between football and later-life cognitive impairment. Records indicate that pro football’s retirees are experiencing moderate to advanced early-onset dementia at rates several times higher than the general population, the most glaring evidence to date of the dangers of professional football in past eras.
According to the story, the data indicate dementia rates among football players that are four to five times higher than those for the average male. Legally, morally and commercially, those are numbers the league has to address with some seriousness.