What You Won’t Hear At NFL’s Hall of Fame Ceremony
For many football fans, the NFL Season begins this weekend with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony for the Class of 2015. This year’s class includes football legends Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Bill Polian, Junior Seau, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff, and Ron Wolf.
The NFL is expecting a record crowd for Enshrinement Weekend. As with many of football’s events throughout the year, this year’s Hall of Fame ceremony is shrouded in controversy.
The controversy first erupted when the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced it would not allow Junior Seau’s family to speak at the induction ceremony. Many speculated the NFL did not want any focus on Seau’s suicide and the traumatic brain injuries the linebacker suffered.
Seau committed suicide by gunshot to the chest in May 2012 after having dealt with psychological and emotional issues since his retirement in 2009. He apparently committed suicide in this manner so his brain could be studied for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
After the Hall of Famer’s death, his family donated the brain tissue to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study Seau’s debilitated brain. The NIH found that Seau showed signs of CTE in his brain, a disease responsible for dementia and depression in sufferers.
Earlier this year on 60 Minutes, Seau’s family accused the NFL of poorly handling the concussion-related issues of former players. Seau’s ex-wife and four children are suing the NFL for how it has handled the effects of football on its player’s brains.
Many speculate this is why the family was not allowed to speak at the ceremony, although the Hall of Fame has since made clear his family will be allowed a small amount of airtime.
5,000-plus former players, including their families, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the NFL, of which approximately six are Hall of Famers. A movie about the NFL and head injuries, entitled “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, is due to come out at Christmas. The NHL faces similar lawsuits. Roughly 80 former NHL players make claims similar to the ones in the NFL lawsuit. The NHL case is scheduled for September 2016 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Stefan Duma, professor and head of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Science, and interim head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is a lover of football. He knows the game in-and-out. He is also an expert in sports-related brain trauma and prevention.
Aside from game strategy, Duma pays attention to what helmets players wear and if they’re wearing the them correctly. His research at Virginia Tech, with the help of federal grants, transformed the football helmet as we know it. Duma helped develop a 5-star rating system that, although controversial at first, has been adopted by all the major brands making football helmets.
“When we first started in 2011 there was only one 5-star helmet, and now there are 12 made by every major company,” Duma told Hacked. At all levels of football in recent years, changes have been made to try and make the game safer for everyone.
“If you look at Pop Warner, for example, changing the practice structure has made a huge difference,” Duma said.
“We did some research in 2011. In 2012, Pop Warner adopted our findings,” Duma noted. “Basically, by limiting your contact in practice you can reduce the number of head impacts by 50% and still have the same number of games and the same amount of fun.” The changes made at the Pop Warner level are now taking hold at all levels of the game.
“What you see in football is people carefully choosing how many hitting practices to have and how often to have those.” The NFL has actively researched the problem, as well, contributing money to the cause.
“NFL has been very actively funding research, with the GE partnership, as well as money through the NIH,” Duma said. “They’re working on a range of different research studies from helmet technology to imaging techniques.” Amid the contentious debate over helmets, some have suggested that football players ought not to wear helmets, like the old days.
“[Such ideas forget] the history and why the helmet was designed,” Duma remarked. “In the 1960s there used to be up to thirty fatalities a year while playing football.” The helmet prevented these.
“Concussion is a minor brain injury on the scale of brain energies,” he said. “If you got rid of helmets you’re going to have the same sort of skull fractures, injuries, and deaths the helmets have prevented.”
Understanding brain injuries has historically been hampered by our lack of knowledge about how the brain works. Duma does acknowledge that the effects of playing a contact sport like football varies from person-to-person.
“There is no question that the susceptibility to concussion is widely variable between people,” he said. “Clearly there is a genetic link just like any other disease.” Most concussions heal themselves.
“In a general sense, the vast majority of concussions heal themselves very quickly,” Duma told Hacked over the phone. “Nobody knows what is happening during the healing process. We don’t know physically what happens in the brain that causes a loss of function surrounding a concussion. There’s a lot of research right now trying to figure that out.” The professor believes science is an important part of not just football, but all sports.
“Science is an important part of sports, especially as we look into research opportunities that make sports safer,” Duma said. “There is a risk of concussion in soccer, baseball, hockey, and almost all team sports, so science can help us understand how to play the game safer.” Duma’s department has recently made headway into hockey safety, introducing a similar helmet rating system as football.
“We have a completely revamped methodology specifically for hockey players and hockey helmets,” he said. The department’s research does not stop with football and hockey.
“We’re looking bicycle helmets and a range of other sports, including baseball and softball.”
The NFL Hall Of Fame enshrinement ceremony will air 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 8.
Featured image from Shutterstock.