February 24, 2023 – Although some researchers contend that the potential health dangers of sports-related head trauma have not yet been fully proven by science, the risks players face have in fact been known and studied for more than a century, according to other experts.
Emily Harrison, a historian and an instructor in epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was among several experts quoted on the topic of head injuries—most notably, concussions—in sports in a February 11 New Yorker article. “Concern about concussions has a history in football as long as the game of football itself,” Harrison said.
The article noted that many prominent physicians and sports organizations have long been aware that concussions from a variety of sports could cause serious brain damage. Recently, a form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., has been posthumously identified in the brains of former football and hockey pros. But researchers affiliated with the sports industry have argued that it’s still not certain whether repeated head blows in sports can lead to C.T.E. They have argued that longitudinal studies are needed to prove the connection.
Harrison told the New Yorker that the “first concussion crisis” in the U.S.—which occurred after a study of Harvard’s football squad in 1906 reported 145 injuries in one season, 19 of them concussions—faded, and then slipped from the national memory, “because work was done by football’s supporters to reshape public acceptance of risk.” The trend continues today, she added, noting, “A great deal of money and effort has gone into convincing people that risks that were unsettling should actually feel just fine.”
Read the New Yorker article: The Forgotten History of Head Injuries in Sports
Concussions linked with hypertension in football players (Harvard Chan School news)
Examining the potential health dangers of pro football—and how to protect players (Harvard Chan School feature)