The NFL and high school football have come into focus in the traumatic brain injury world lately, as studies pile up demonstrating the serious risk of degenerative brain disease to players who suffer multiple concussions. The Boston Globe reported that the NFL’s own study showed that retired football players from age 30 to 49 had dementia rates 19 times greater than normal, and that retirees 50 and older had 5 times more incidence of memory-related disorders.
The Boston Globe also mentioned a University of North Carolina study saying that players who had suffered multiple concussions had ‘several times more prevalence of cognitive impairment’ than those players who had never suffered brain injuries. The Boston Globe reported that 1.14 million kids play high school football and 3.2 million more play in youth leagues. New studies continue to be released revealing the serious danger inherent to the violent crashes between players in the sport.
Since it seems that football is not going to stop being a hugely popular sport, parents of young athletes are faced with the task of making the sport somehow safer for their young boys, or removing them from the sport altogether. After all, no matter how glorious it may feel to win games and make fantastic plays, living with degenerative brain disorder with a failing memory in a wheelchair is not glorious at all.
One solution some coaches and parents agree on is to not let boys continue playing after a concussion or head injury occurs until the child’s brain has had time to heal. The Globe article reported on a study from the journal Brain Injury that said 16% of student players in high school were returned to play after losing consciousness during a game. They added that most high school games do not have a certified athletic trainer in attendance on the sidelines.
A Harvard epidemiologist said to the Globe that the NFL should use footage of plays when injuries occur to make rule changes to ensure the safety of all players. Scientists at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy told the Globe of incidents of degenerative brain disease in 18-year-old football players. They added that the brain continues to mature and develop well into the 20s and that football will have to change to make it safer for the youth.
60 Minutes reported that the impacts between football players, who can run at up to 20 miles per hour, are akin to a car hitting a brick wall at 40 miles per hour. Unfortunately, human heads are much more delicate than car bumpers. As the studies pile up that prove how dangerous football can be to the brains of the players, one must wonder what changes, if any, will be made to the sport to protect its players from serious injury.
Many times, athletes and their coaches and families are unaware that their brains have suffered serious injuries. Since degenerative brain disease eats away at brain cells slowly over time, it is easy to mistake the symptoms for psychological disorders or other issues. It is not until after a person dies and an autopsy is done on their brain that traumatic brain injuries and subsequent degeneration are revealed. Some scientists are working to improve diagnostic tools to better identify serious brain injuries in living patients while successful treatment remains possible.
It seems that football’s popularity will continue to remain high, but with 60 Minutes reporting that ‘sports related concussions are an epidemic in this country,’ one can only hope that parents take the lead in keeping their children’s developing brains safe from traumatic brain injuries, and that NFL players and coaches will take the hint and stop putting players with concussions back in the game.
Each player has to ask himself, ‘Is it worth losing my brain functions later in life to continue playing now?’ If the answer is no, changes to the game and how concussions are dealt with will have to be made.