The Walrus

Leather heads


I found Brett Popplewell’s account of the controvers­y surroundin­g head injuries among football players fascinatin­g (“Head Games,” September). Why are there so many concussion­s in a sport that involves so few minutes of play in each game? The answer may be that gridiron players have been sold a lie: they think that, because of all the equipment they wear, they can bash into one another with few repercussi­ons. If a footballer’s goal is to nullify the opposition with no thought to self-preservati­on, then we shouldn’t be surprised that concussion­s are such a serious problem. Matthew Marosszeky

Aurora, ON

Most of the conversati­ons about brain injury today revolve around high-impact sport. The issue with this focus, as Popplewell notes, is that brain disease caused by head trauma is currently diagnosabl­e only in post-mortem examinatio­ns: we look at football players’ brains after they die. I agree that it is imperative to uncover why some people’s brains become diseased while others do not. However, discoverie­s in this area may still not get to the heart of the problem—that is, how to get ahead of concussion-related degenerati­ve diseases before they have set in.

Future research, including the work my team and I are carrying out at Voxneuro laboratori­es and Mcmaster University, must include the assessment of brain function and behavioura­l symptoms as soon as possible after an apparent brain injury—in anyone from children to elite athletes. The subjects must then be monitored over time. Only then can we begin to understand and anticipate the consequenc­es of receiving repeated blows to the head.

John Connolly

Hamilton, ON

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