Over the last decade and beyond, the dangers of football have been well-documented. From concussions to brain damage to CTE, football can dramatically affect the lives of those who play it.
And the NFL, without question, bears responsibility for this.
“The NFL has a tremendous amount of responsibility in high school, college, Pop Warner and lower, too,” former NFL safety and current neurosurgeon Dr. Myron Rolle said on CBS Sports Radio’s Reiter Than You. “A lot of times as young athletes, we look up to the players playing in the NFL and we look up to what the league is doing. I remember growing up and looking at highlights – I think it was called ‘Jacked Up’ or something like that on ESPN – and you see those highlights and you’re like, ‘Man, I want to make a big-collision, high-velocity hit like that as well. And if I want to be like one of these great players that I love and I admire, I need to play like that.’ So, yes, the NFL has a responsibility. I think it needs to get out in front of this issue and have independent neurosurgeons on sidelines, at games, at high schools, at colleges, at Pop Warner – with no fealty to any team, just trying to give objective patient care.”
Rolle, 30, was a star safety at Florida State. He was a sixth-round draft pick in 2010, spent two seasons with the Titans, and had a cup of coffee with the Steelers before electing to become a neurosurgeon. He is now in residency at Harvard.
Rolle believes that football must change if it wants to continue to dominate the American-sports landscape. Better equipment, better fundamentals, less romanticization of high-collision hits – the list goes on.
If the game does not adapt, it could perish.
“I think it certainly could lose its grip in being that bedrock of American sports,” Rolle said. “It’s such a great sport. It’s so fascinating. It got me an education at Florida State, it allowed me to make some great friends, it provided me with tools that I’m using now in the locker room – handling pressure, communication, strategizing, all these different things that I’m using now in my new discipline. So there’s some outstanding benefits to it. But if we don’t address how serious it is, if we don’t start to get involved in more research and have more targeted therapy for concussions . . . and then also get over this issue of players failing to report some acute symptoms, get over this macho culture (and a fear of being labeled soft) – all of these things need to change. If they do, then I think the sport can exist. But if it doesn’t, I’m afraid the game will either stop or it will change and not look like the way we see it today.”
Rolle was asked if he would let his kids play football.
“I would say yes – but with conditions,” he said. “I would say the equipment has to be great. I would say the fundamentals have to be emphasized. I would say the technique has to really be put out there. And then I’d say educating coaches, educating everyone on what to look for (in terms of the) signs and symptoms. I’d hate to see this game go away. I love it so much, it’s done so much for me, and I would hate to rob that from my children or my nephews or other young kids. But we’ve got to make it safer. I’m hopeful that we are able to find a solution.”