Not even ice hockey equals the brutality of professional football. One need only look at the layers of protective gear players wear from head to feet and consider the lasting injuries over time that have left former players hobbled for life.
Only now is the National Football League finally showing genuine concern for the most profound, widespread injury of all: head concussions.
Historically, the NFL has downplayed the effects of head injuries, usually to avoid sidelining valuable players and thus jeopardizing season wins. However, the pressure is on from the public, doctors, Congress and players. Wisely, the NFL is responding with more aggressive neurological exams and policies that prevent injured players from returning to the game too soon.
Other important beneficiaries of enlightened NFL attitudes, in addition to professional players, are the more than 1.2 million high school football players who take to the field each year, of which some 400,000 suffered head concussions during the 2008-09 season. High school football is a captive of the influence of professional football, and indifference in the NFL to head injuries found its way into the ranks of high school athletic departments.
Now the worry begins that concussions suffered during high school play may have led to permanent adult brain disorders whose origins were never traced back to teenage injuries on the gridiron.
Out of this new era of medical concerns may also come redesigned equipment and sensible rules that prevent even further injuries in a popular, but physically dangerous, sport.