Fans of the Detroit Tigers will remember Alex Avila and the frequent concussions that he suffered as a catcher. Avila missed several games as he suffered and recovered from the trauma of the repeated blows to the head.
Even the current platoon catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has missed playing time due to concussions. In 2014, the Marlins put him on the DL when he was hit by a foul ball. Interestingly, the foul ball was hit by his current teammate, Justin Upton.
Avila and Salty are not the only athletes with connections to Detroit who have suffered from concussions. The Detroit Tigers brothers-across-the-street have also struggled with players having concussions. One of those is the Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy who shared his fears about the reality of repeated concussions in an email to the Detroit Free Press in a heart-felt email.
While Levy’s story may not seem like it applies to baseball, there is no doubt that the knowledge about concussions will affect the future of the MLB in a positive way. Parents will encourage their children to play baseball instead of football – simply because baseball is a safer choice. This will affect the professional leagues as those young players grow up loving the game.
As more data is collected and research is conducted on the long-term effects of repeated concussions, more and more NFL players will retire early. As the early retirements are covered in the sports media, families with young children will learn about the issues related to concussions. This will affect the choices of sports that parents and the children want to play. There is no doubt that the numbers of children playing football will drop due to the potential for serious concussions.
The reality of CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – is scary for players who have only been in the NFL for a few seasons and for players who have been out for years. According to Boston University’s CTE Center, “the repeated brain trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. The brain degeneration is associated with common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia.”
CTE does not just affect football players – it is also common in sports like soccer and hockey. Many military veterans also have issues relating to CTE. While there are always risks of head injuries in every sport, baseball players – as a group – do not get many concussions with the exception of catchers. Many catchers are moving to hockey-style masks to prevent concussions from foul tips hitting their face masks; the cage mask does not protect as well as the hockey masks do. The MLB does have a concussion policy that is similar to the one in the NFL.
The idea of CTE is scary for professional athletes and for amateurs, too. It will not be long before youth football programs and prep football programs will begin to lose players. Parents who are aware of the dangers of concussions and the potential for CTE will find alternative sports for their children. This is one of the reasons why sports like lacrosse and rugby are growing in popularity among the younger Millennials.
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The frightening reality of concussions will also bring more players to baseball. For example, in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where I live), we have a boom in youth baseball teams. Travel baseball is huge here. Grand Rapids travel-ball teams have brand new indoor facilities. In the suburbs, Little Leagues have been building new complexes and a new sports complex filled with diamonds for baseball and softball was completed in 2015.
Interestingly, this growth in the West Michigan area started shortly after the West Michigan Whitecaps were introduced in 1994. The Whitecaps became affiliated with the Detroit Tigers in 1997.
These boys and young men will still want to play a sport. Since baseball has been established for longer than any other sport, it would be easy to boys to choose the best game in the world.
If baseball numbers grow due to the concerns about CTE, there is a chance that the MLB will seriously consider adding expansion teams in the major and minor leagues. Just imagine the future MLB with players who would have played football, but grew up on baseball instead. Whole teams could be stocked with men who hit like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Giancarlo Stanton. Imagine Ndamukong Suh, J.J. Watt, or Rob Gronkowski as baseball players.
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