Recent laboratory study links head injuries to football

The players who make up the Rattler football team are constantly hit, pounded, rammed and knocked. They pile up, the play is called and the cycle repeats. Nothing is personal, and the players forget about minor injuries.

With every major blow to the head, however, there is a possibility that some Rattler’s football dreams could be forgotten about forever.

After a recent laboratory study at the University of Pennsylvania involving lab mice, experts suggest that people who receive repetitive head injuries are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than others, and at a faster rate.

The researchers found that head injuries similar to what football players or boxers may receive, produce a protein called amyloid beta, which is also found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

There is a “direct cause and effect relationship between repetitive concussions and Alzheimer’s,” said John Q. Trojanowski in USA Today.

However, these findings do not shake the drive of some Florida A&M University football players. Wide receiver T.J. Hines, 22, a senior criminal justice student from Tampa, said he tries not to think about getting hurt while he’s on the field.

“When you think about getting injured, you play timid and scared,” he said. “And that’s when you get hurt. The safest way to play is to play hard: play 100 percent.” Hines has been playing football since age 7 and said he has never had a concussion.

Charles Fluellen, 19, a second-year business student from Cartersville, Ga., was a fullback on FAMU’s football team during the 2000 season. He said that while he was playing he felt prepared for long term side effects of playing football that would affect both physical and mental health. “In freak accidents, paralysis can occur,” he said. “I’ve even seen guys get hit and it takes a couple weeks for them to fully regain their memory.”

Hines said that head injuries in football are rare and usually come during “awkward plays.”

According to a study by Eric D. Zemper, Ph.D., president of Exercise Associates of Oregon, concussions are the fifth most common injury in college football. The study also showed that the Riddell M155 helmet protected the head better than Bike Air helmet. Riddell and Bike are two major helmet-making companies.

Hines said he felt that football helmets provide adequate protection, but said that there are “ways of improving.”

Standard football helmets have a polycarbonate exterior and an interior made of polyurethane or polypropylene foam. These materials give protection against head, brain, and facial injuries, but are also light and contour to the shape of the player’s head.

Hines and Fluellen have not allowed studies or research to alter their plans. Hines said that he would like to pursue a career in professional football if “everything goes right.”

Fluellen said that a career in professional football is secondary right now, However, he wants to play on the FAMU team next year. He said that the best safety precaution is realizing that there are risks.

“As a football player, you have to realize that there are certain risks,” he said. “If you’re willing to take those risks, you should be alright.”