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The Effects of Injuries on Professional Athletes

The Effects of Sports Injuries occur in almost every single sport, not only in those with a high level of contact. Many injuries come from high-intensity sports and are very common, but some may change players for the rest of their lives. Injuries are painful and at that moment they affect player’s ability to participate but certain injuries sustained can affect them in the long run. These injuries are very dangerous because sometimes athletes don’t even realize they have a serious long-term injury until it is too late. Although the injuries people most hear about are the in professional sports, these injuries occur just as much or maybe even more, with teenagers in middle school or high school. Almost one in five high school students in a contact sport suffers a concussion each season and there are about 300,000 sport-related concussions each year (Washburn 1). Clearly this is currently a major issue in the sport community today. Sports like hockey or football usually contribute most of the concussions but other sports such as basketball, boxing, and even gymnastics are reported yearly to have some concussions. Concussions are just one of many injuries that threaten the lives of all athletes. The NFL is responsible for injuries players receive during their NFL careers and should incorporate a medical disability plan for retired players..

It as been proven that young athletes or teenagers are more vulnerable to injuries such as concussions. Concussions have been and still are one of the most dangerous forms of injuries. Since teens are more vulnerable to them, they suffer more concussions than adults (Solomon 44). It is very dangerous for the teen athlete to receive this damage because the younger someone is, the brain and nervous system takes even longer to recover (Washburn 1). The most dangerous thing about concussions are that they are “invisible” meaning they are undetectable. The only symptoms are headaches, sleepiness or lack of focus. Doctors say that concussions are the most serious injury in sports and the most difficult to diagnose due to the fact that it is invisible (Washburn 2). The dangerous part about not being able to detect a concussion is that players resume playing and are three times more-likely to suffer another. Even if an athlete receives a concussion and returns too soon, that athlete is at risk of receiving the “second impact syndrome” which causes irreversible brain damage or even fatality. It has been reported that two young athletes in the nation die each year from concussions (Washburn 1). In New Jersey, it is also reported that 10,000 athletes suffer from sport related concussions, and 75,000 more are unreported. Although teenagers are more likely to receive one, many professional athletes were force to end their careers early as a result. Athletes such as Pat LaFontaine (National Hockey League) and Wayne Chrebet (National Football League) are primary examples of what concussions are capable of (Nowinski 63). These athletes may look the same but concussions are known to change personalities as a long-term affect. Most likely the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali must suffer the life-long consequences of the serious blows to the head (Washburn 2). Autopsy’s of dead NFL players have shown that concussions may also lead to psychological problems which includes suicide (Chandler 2). These injuries are far more dangerous than most even realize. The injury causes a lot of damage to the brain and can alter ones lifestyle. College football athlete David Showalter received a concussion during warmups before his Rutgers game. Because of this, he claims his grades had plummeted, his memory faltered, and had withdrew from college with partial amnesia. Schools and doctors should be more aware of this serious injury and should do more to prevent or aid those who need, such as Showalter who’s life will never again be the same.

A major issue today is the medical pension that professional athletes, such as NFL retirees, are not receiving. Only very few NFL players who retired due to a concussion injury are receiving full medical care and only 4 retirees have full life-time benefits from concussions out of 8,000. Player Agent Leigh Steinberg says concussions are “an undiagnosed health epidemic” and that the reason so many athletes are not receiving aid is because of three reasons. These reasons are that they either don’t realize their later-life impairments were caused by the sport, they are too embarrassed to come forward, or the disability regulators need to be enlightened. Many ex-athletes are fighting for more support and feel that it is necessary because the sport is so dangerous. Approximately 61.5% of retired NFL players are receiving benefits, but only half of those receive pension (Chandler 1). It seems very unfair to those who were forced to retire due to injury and receive nothing, especially if they suffer brain damage. These players will not be able to have an occupation to support their families and the NFL should be there to help out. Ex-Minnesota Viking Brent Boyd claims that the NFL is fighting so hard, like how “tobacco companies fought like hell to deny any link between smoking and cancer.” Coach and Hall of Fame Tight End Mike Ditka is one of the most active retiree to fight for a better retirement system. Ditka feels that the retirement system is far from satisfying and that ex-players need more than what they are receiving now, if anything. Kevin Everett, who played for the Buffalo Bills just this year, received a devastating spinal cord injury that ended his career. Ditka argues for players such as Everett who should receive life-time support. Injured players receive injury settlements which provide less compensation, than those players would have earned if they remained healthy and finished the contract obligations (Sports Illustrated 3).

Many feel that athletes now who earn hundreds of millions are set for life. This may be the case for some, but not all. In reality, most athletes have short careers and aren’t earning hundreds of millions. In fact they have a limited time to earn enough money to earn that will last them through their retirement. Most athletes must find a way to earn money after they retire, especially the injured ones. This is why many athletes need good pension plans to keep themselves along with their families supported if unable to find a job. The NFL pension plan was created in 1959. Back then the salaries were a lot different than today of course, but still not enough. The plan covered all active players that have been in the league for a minimum of 4 years. After 1992, the minimum number of years was decreased to only 3 years and full benefits were accessible to all at the age of 55 with minimum payout of 200 a month for each season played. Veteran Darrel Green, retired in 2002 after 20 seasons, will only receive $5,805 a month, which at this day and age is certainly not enough to support a full family and health concerns. Another veteran, Mike Webster, requested for full disability benefits in 1999 and was rejected. Because of this, Webster was forced into debt and out on the streets, homeless for a short time. Unfortunately Webster had died in 2002 as he suffered sever brain damage from playing in the NFL. After years of legal work, Webster’s estate sued the NFL and received $1.18 million. Although they won, it seemed too little, too late as Webster was denied the help and financial aid he should rightfully have gotten and died (Helfand 1).

The NFL is not the only sport that has a retirement pension plan. The NBA also started one just 6 years after the NFL did. Just like the National Football League, the National Basketball Association based its pension on how many years the athletes have been in the league for. Benefits went mostly to those who have been in the NBA for over 3 years in 1965 but was revised in 1988 and extended coverage to the athletes who played at least 5 seasons before 1965. Those who played before 1965 received at least 100 dollars a month and those after 1965 received more than $200 a month. Sadly those numbers have not increased greatly over the years, it was moved to over $306 a month to all players equally (Helfand 1). As each week goes by, it seems as if there is more and more talk about pensions and benefits in the NFL.

Mike Ditka is definitely one of the more vocal Hall of Famers, but by his side stand many retirees fighting with him for a greater cause. With the average NFL career lasting only roughly 3 seasons and some of those ending careers caused by injury, the pension system as of now will not fully support an athlete and his family (Sports Illustrated 1). Times have changed since the pensions were implemented and finances have changed as well. Necessities cost a lot more than what they used to and the pension plan should be updated to work hand in hand with today’s finances. Many players may seem like they are living the sweet life, but when their short careers end, they don’t have much to fall back on. Most retired players seem to land occupations that deal with football, like coaching, commentating or even scouting. If not, popular jobs are finance or real estate which brings in good money. It is easier said than done, as most NFL players don’t have the education, experience or skills that can get them that job (Sports Illustrated 2). A certain percentage of the retired players aren’t so lucky as to having a chance at an after-football job. The few retired athletes who could have landed jobs before their NFL careers, now cannot due to severe brain damage or paralysis. These are the injuries that will ruin someone’s life and without the NFL’s support, they will live in poverty for the rest of their lives. The effects of injuries in sports could be devastating. Although athletes may be lucky enough to overcome injuries physically, it can always come back to hurt them in the long run mentally or financially. Without pensions or benefits to help aid athletes financially, there is not much that can be done for support. In the near future, something must be done to change pension policies so that everyone is supported, not just a select few. Mike Ditka and followers will eventually succeed to changing retirement plans for athletes such as the NFL’s for the better.