The most recent report by the American Academy of Neurology confirmed the dangers of concussions and repetitive hits to the head in sports, especially football.
This study’s results are far from earth-shattering, acting more as another brick in the construction of an objective understanding of the dangers of traumatic brain injuries, or TBI.
The study consisted of 3,439 former NFL players, with an average age of 57. The results showed that pro football players were three times as likely to die from diseases that damage brain cells than the average person.
The most associated diseases were Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which were four times more prevalent in the athletes than the general population.
Just because the research focused on professionals doesn’t mean the results aren’t important for youth athletes. Dr. Anne McKee, the co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) notes “changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.”
She continues, “In autopsies of some teens who played high-school football, we found early changes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brain – similar to the more advanced stages found in older players.”
The biggest problem with protecting children playing sports is their own desire to be a part of the game. Youth athletes hate being stuck on the sideline for the suggested amount of time it takes to heal from a brain injury. Missing one game is painful enough, but the full week usually suggested by health professionals can be agonizing.
Unfortunately for these youth athletes, that time spent benched is essential because the risk of re-injury and long lasting neurocognitive issues are significantly raised surrounding the initial injury.
Some want to completely change the game to protect the student athletes, but it is seriously in question whether students would be accepting of these changes. Some would even want to strip children of the exercise outlet of football, just to keep children safe.
Most likely, actions such as these would gain resentment from athletes rather than gratitude, as Rita Watson from Psychology Today suggests.
What student athletes have been responding to are safety precautions put in place to protect the youth during the game. They accept implementation of new practices such as baseline testing at the beginning of the season, as well as new protective padding made to prevent TBI. The youth athletes, however, don’t accept any notion of removing football from their lives.