Although sporting organisations in the United Kingdom and the United States both use the term football to describe a specific sport, players in each country play the game entirely differently. What the UK refers to as football is soccer in the US.
How Each Country Plays the Game of Football
British football players kick an inflated black and white ball towards a net and a goalkeeper for each team tries to prevent the ball from crossing the goal line and entering the net. Goalkeepers and players on the field also bounce the ball off their heads to prevent opponents from scoring and to advance the ball down the field. Unfortunately, heading the ball is a leading cause of concussion in football.
American football is a contact sport that allows defensive players to tackle offensive players to stop them from gaining 10 yards on four downs. If they fail to do so, the offense gains a first down and advances the brown, oblong-shaped football that much further down the field. The purpose of the game is for a player to cross the goal line of the opponent to score a touchdown, which is worth six points.
The team’s kicker attempts to kick the football through the goal posts for one extra point. The kicker can also score three points for the team when they attempt a field goal because they have not advanced far enough down the field to score a touchdown. Despite wearing a helmet for every game, concussion in football is a common occurrence for American players.
Football and Soccer Produce the Highest Number of Brain Injuries in the United States
Between 2007 and 2011, over two million Americans went to hospital emergency rooms with head injuries. Cycling causes the most injuries among solo sports, while football and soccer rank highest among organised sports. Of these two sports, American football causes greater central nervous system damage than American soccer due to rotational and linear impacts that are more severe and happen more frequently.
Common Causes of Concussion in Football Among British Players
Heading the ball to advance or stop it and players from opposing teams colliding and striking their heads are the leading causes of brain damage in British football players. Player collisions account for 40 percent of concussions, and brain injuries due to heading the ball account for 12 percent of concussions in British football.
Female players sustain more sport concussions than male players, and serious brain injury is also more common during competitions as opposed to in practice. Concussions have become so prevalent that professional football organisations in the UK have made significant rule changes aimed at preventing them.
What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)?
Sports that involve repetitive closed head trauma like British and American football create a greater risk of players developing CTE over time. CTE is a collective term to describe advanced neurological damage that football players suffer due to sustaining repeated concussions during their playing career. The earliest symptoms of CTE include cognitive impairment, poor judgment, and lack of personal insight. CTE can eventually result in dementia severe enough to mimic Alzheimer’s disease.
Although football players in both countries and soccer players in the US face the risk of developing CTE, medical research organisations do not know the precise number of sufferers yet. However, even one concussion in football can increase the long-term risk of cognitive dementia. Sports leagues from the primary grades to professional players must commit to pursuing research that helps the organisation understand and prevent brain injuries. The same is true of medical researchers.