April 25 2016

As someone who has worked on preventing injury and reducing smoking for the past three decades, I was gratified to read a recent article in the New York Times exposing how the NFL and Big Tobacco use similar tactics to downplay the harm their products inflict, often with assistance from the same lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants.

Denial and obfuscation may protect these industries’ profits, but they also result in unimaginable and preventable death, disability, and suffering – at great financial cost to our healthcare system.

Thanks to the relentless efforts of public health advocates, smoking rates have significantly decreased over the years, saving lives and money. Now that same logic must be applied to the challenges facing football.

As currently played, football is far too dangerous. In documents related to its $765 million settlement of concussion lawsuits last year, the NFL itself estimated that 28 percent of former players will develop serious brain conditions — double the rate of the general population — and that these injuries will occur earlier in life than usual.

Eighty-seven out of 91 deceased former NFL players (96%) have tested positive for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – a progressive, degenerative brain disease associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, loss of impulse control and dementia. These problems can appear years after the concussions occur. And signs of CTE were found in in 59 out of 62 former professional football players when their brains were analyzed after their deaths.

It should not be up to individual players to create a safe environment or to advocate for their own health and safety.  When life-threatening and life-altering injuries are built into the way a game is played, it’s time to change the rules of the game.

We’d like to see less tackle football in high school and college, and much stronger rules about contact in the NFL. And in the immediate term, we’d like to see an end to questioning a player’s manhood simply because he is trying to take care of his own body.

For too long, the NFL and Big Tobacco have used the same deceptive playbook, with the same predictable and preventable tragic results. We must stand up for public health over the rights of corporations to profit off endangering lives.

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