Review: Head Games

Motorsport has long had signs encircling tracks pointing out to spectators that motorsport is dangerous. From the biggest Formula One circuit to the lowliest kart track that message is loud and clear. Is it time for other sports to begin proclaiming the same thing? That is the question that Head Games deals with.

While the risk of injury in motorsport comes from the vehicles themselves, in other sports it comes from the act of playing the game itself. If you don’t stop the opposition in their tracks in American Football they will just keep running past you, in ice hockey it is also part of the game. This leads to hard blows to players’ heads. A blow to the head is never good news though and the NFL has been forced to come to terms with this. The movie primarily focusses on American Football but points out that concussions can come from practically any sport (the film dwells on women’s soccer for a while). Head Games is detailing the work done by Chris Nowinski and his team at the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston as they continue their research into how to find signs of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) – which can lead to symptoms of dementia – in people still living. Previously it has only been possible to have access to, and find signs in, the brains of the deceased. The film points out that unsurprisingly getting repetitive blows to the head is bad for you and the fact is brought home by showing us a former NFL player who can no longer recite the months of the year between January and June in order or remember a six digit sequence of numbers. The film also shows a study that NFL retirees have 19 times the risk of dementia of a normal member of the public.

The movie stops short of telling people not to play these violent sports but does suggest that perhaps parents should think twice before letting their children play, or keep playing after having a concussion. Head Games makes its points well and there is still a lot of research to be done by this relatively young team. If the movie is able to get a debate going and help make these sports safer then it has done its job.

It is obvious that after spending the nineties denying the effects of head shots, the NFL can no longer ignore the facts regarding concussions. For the past couple of seasons the rules have begun changing to start to minimize the risks and stop potential damage to the league’s reputation. As younger players start seeing the men they idolize clashing heads less often the hope is these changes will filter down. One thing to note is that concussions take a long time to heal, the NFL currently takes players out of the game but more often than not they are back the following week. The league perhaps needs to look into increasing the time that these players sit out before returning.

It may look like the league has been neutering the show but if it means one fewer suicide and more players retiring in decent health then it is surely worth it. What does this mean for us in the British leagues? We need to acknowledge that the problem is out there. Make sure no player enters the game with a concussion. If we see a player take a blow to the head then make sure he is fit to re-enter. While I have seen few, if any such hits in the British game it should still be a point of emphasis for coaches that players should not go in with, or aim for, the head.

As the movie points out one concussion is really too many.

Trailer for Head Games: