This Sunday on February 4, 2018, one of the biggest events of the year will be on TV: The 52nd Super Bowl. Most of those watching the NFL probably do not know that “LII” is the Roman numeral for “52.” Yet, the NFL markets the Super Bowl by calling it Super Bowl LII. Why the use of Roman numerals? I’m sure there are lots of innocent explanations.
But one thing for sure is that the ancient Romans loved watching gladiators kill themselves. The thrill of strong men beating, maiming, and killing each other was probably the most exciting and thrilling event the Romans at the time offered their citizens. We are no different today. Super Bowl Sunday has become the biggest event to watch each year. Advertisement buys during the Super Bowl command the highest rates for any TV programming. Viewership is also the highest for any programming. According to Wikipedia, Super Bowl XLIX (49—be honest and tell me that you knew XLIX stood for 49), Super Bowl XLVIII (48), Super Bowl L (50), and Super Bowl LI (51) were the top all time most watched programs… except for the M*A*S*H final episode in 1983… 19 of the 20 most watched programs are the Super Bowls. How much do we admire and validate violence as a society? Are we still as barbaric as we were during the ancient gladiator times?
But, we watch this game at a comfortable distance… on TV. Do we have less courage now than those who watched the gladiators maim and kill each other? We choose to live in the denial of the insidious permanent Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that results from playing football. Never mind that, despite their brains appearing completely normal on modern tests as MRIs and CAT scans, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE as it as become known) has been found in the brains of more than 100 deceased NFL players who exhibited psychiatric and cognitive impairments while alive. Never mind that, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has again and again informed the public that Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can occur even when there is no direct impact to the head. Whereas, in tackle football, impacts to the head are an integral part of the game.
For those of us who will watch the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, remember that the brain is a very soft structure housed inside a very rigid skull with sharp bony ridges that project into the brain. The brain consists of more than 100 billion long strands of axons that serve as the communication network for signals throughout the brain. These long strands of axons are so small that only ten can fit into a capillary blood vessel. And, capillaries are so small that our red blood cells must line up single-file to pass through.
When a player’s head crashes into another player, the brain is thrown about inside the rigid skull—the football helmet protects the skull, but does nothing to help protect the delicate brain inside. As the brain sloshes about inside the skull, the axons can be stretched, twisted, and sheared… the network is disrupted, leading to permanent brain damage. When the axons are sheared, communication within the brain breaks down. When this happens, our ability to think and process information is diminished… leading to impaired memory and judgment. The ability to control emotions and behavior are also affected which leads to sleep impairment and a host of psychological disorders such as depression and mood disorders, just to name a few. Unlike broken bones, skin cuts, or liver damage… The human body does not repair broken and sheared axons. This damage causes a chronic condition of cognitive impairment that can debilitate a person’s life. It can destroy a person’s ability to think. It can change their personality. This brain damage can affect relationships with family and friends. And, it can destroy the ability to make a living.