Football, one of America’s favorite past times and home to the Super Bowl, one of the most watched annual sporting events worldwide, is making headline news with its current lockout. For those of you, who like me, are not very footballs savvy, a “lockout” is a work stoppage in which the owners of the football teams are preventing the players from working by not allowing them to practice and work-out. They are also not allowed access to their coaches. Of course, all of these things are necessary components for a successful football season.
The thought of no 2011 football season has many fans angry. One interesting aspect of the disagreement between the owners and players is about the availability post-career healthcare. Currently, a player must play for three seasons to receive five years of healthcare coverage following their career. The average length of a NFL player’s career is 3.6 years. Another disagreement between the two parties is the owners want players to play two additional games during a regular season, increasing their risk for injuries. Players are not guaranteed healthcare after their contract expires if they sustain a career-ending injury before playing three seasons. In fact, many football players are denied healthcare coverage after they retire because of ‘pre-existing’ conditions.
A study commissioned by the NFL found that former football players are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia at a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49, with 6.1 percent diagnosed over the age of 50. That’s five times higher than the national average. The study found that players are more likely to be afflicted with pugilistic dementia, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), with its only known cause being repeated blows to the head. This type of brain damage is usually seen in older patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Cincinnati’s Wide Receiver, Chris Henry, was diagnosed with CTE and died of unrelated causes after only playing five seasons in the NFL. He was twenty-six-years old.
The good news for NFL players: In February 2007, the NFL instated the ‘88 plan’ for football retirees who are diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s; it was introduced by the wife of the Hall of Famer, John Mackey. The plan was named after Mackey’s jersey number 88. It ensures that the NFL pays for up to $88,000 a year in medical and home care costs for players. Since its creation, the 88 plan has covered costs for over 151 former players.
As you can see, even those with exceptional athletic prowess can suffer from a debilitating disease like Alzheimer’s. I am glad to see the NFL is taking proactive steps to help players and their families with home health care.