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The actions of the media can also influence the football culture. Over the past few years, the television networks have toned down the glorification of violent collisions, which is a positive development. Yet during the Jan. 24 telecast of the NFC championship game, Fox repeatedly replayed images of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre being brutalized. The most powerful media outlet in sports, ESPN, should set the standard for concussion awareness. "I think that's fair," says Chris Berman, ESPN's lead football studio host. "We've done it and will be a little more cognizant of the fact that a 10-second comment, for a 13-year-old or high school player watching, might be helpful." Let's see if he keeps his word.
The Last Hit
The momentum for change is strong. Last spring, for example, the state of Washington passed the Lystedt Law, named for Zackery Lystedt, who as a 13-year-old played with a concussion during a 2006 game. Lystedt collapsed after the game. His brain hemorrhaged, he went into a monthlong coma, and he remains paralyzed on one side of his body. The law requires that all youth athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury during a practice or game must sit out and may not return to play unless cleared by a licensed medical provider trained in concussion management. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Florida are among the states considering similar legislation. "I believe we're reaching a tipping point," says Richard Adler, a Seattle lawyer who was instrumental in designing the Lystedt Law.
Meanwhile, more players are becoming enlightened. Once again, consider those tortured looks from Hadley, the Colgate senior who was shocked by the images of damaged brains of dead football players. Hadley loves football and doesn't regret a single hit or his four concussions. He holds a warrior bond with his fellow players. "It's bothering me that I'm telling you all this," Hadley says after outlining his concussion history and explaining how he decided to play through headaches until he couldn't remember the plays. "It's like I'm betraying a fraternity," he says.
Hadley's veneer is strong but no longer impenetrable. Though not quite big enough for the NFL, Hadley has thought about pursuing a pro-football career in Europe's minor leagues. However, after reading about football's potential cognitive consequences and seeing all that tau, he's reconsidering that career move. He'll either pursue the dream of playing pro football or give his long-term health first priority. At least he's thinking about it. Perhaps the football fixing has begun.