The Super Bowl is one of the largest party days in the United States - everyone seems to rally around watching the game, whether their team is in it or not, or even if they do not generally enjoy sports. It is termed "America's pastime" and enthusiastic fans care only about the entertainment aspect. However, the issue of serious brain injuries resulting from the impacts necessarily involved in pro-sports is of ever-increasing importance. Litigation against the NFL has prompted an even more in-depth look at the issue, with organizations such as the Sports Legacy Institute initiating research that is meant to improve the data available to doctors who evaluate the effects of brain impacts. This particular organization, led by former World Wrestling Entertainment star Christopher Nowinski and former Super Bowl winners Mike Haynes and Ted Johnson, instituted a new program called "Hit Count" that is meant to monitor the number of hits that an athlete receives, whether a pro-athlete or child. The SLI hopes this program will promote guidelines for the amount of trauma that is "acceptable" before becoming risky for the health of the athlete. Research shows that many of the hits on children are received during practice and that modifications and awareness will help to reduce those unnecessary impacts. Modifications to rules in the NFL have also been instituted, but to the possible dismay of fans. The rules make play less violent and dangerous than in prior years, argued by some to make the game less exciting. The interests of serious fans compete with those of parents of children athletes and former pro-athletes who have suffered the effects of serious head injuries.
Those competing interests, not surprisingly, result in the NFL downplaying the seriousness of head injuries. Ironically, the devastating effects of concussions was known since the beginning of football, with the American Medical Association stating in 1902 that serious head injuries resulted in "long-term insanity." One hundred years later in 2002, Mike Webster, a 50-year old former Steelers player, died due to his repeated head injuries and the resulting amnesia, dementia, and depression that he experienced. An autopsy revealed unusual brain pathologies caused by successive head injuries. The life expectancy of professional athletes is 55 - as opposed to the national average of 76. This dichotomy is serious, and requires a serious examination of the future of football.