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Football is too dangerous

The recent cluster of three high school football deaths brought to the forefront just how unsafe the game is. While the rate of fatal injuries is very low, football remains a dangerous activity. The statistics for the NFL are familiar and striking. In 2013, among 1,696 players there were 225 diagnosed concussions. From 2004-2009, there were over 16,000 recorded injuries, 21 percent of which were considered major. Most striking is the recent prediction by the NFL itself that that it expects one-third of retired players to develop long term neurologic problems related to head injury induced chronic traumatic encephalopathy. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that among NFL players who played at least five full seasons, deaths associated with neurodegenerative diseases were three times higher than expected and deaths from Alzheimer's and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) were four times higher.

The question we should be asking is where is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency charged with enforcement of safety and health legislation, in all this. OSHA has standards that employers must use to protect their employees from workplace hazards, and there is a general duty clause that requires employers to keep their workplace free from serious hazards. OSHA would not tolerate the dismal safety record of the NFL in any other industry, but their role in response to the situation in the NFL has been extremely limited and largely ineffectual.

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One can be sure that the dangerous workplace environment of the NFL is only tolerated because the financial stakes are enormous and the lobbying and legal tactics of the NFL have been remarkably successful. Sadly, the situation will only change when the team owners are hit in the pocketbook by personal injury lawsuits, and there is evidence that this is already happening.

Dr. Beryl Rosenstein, Baltimore

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The writer is professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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