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5 Reasons Your Kid’s Brain Doesn’t Need Football

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Chicago neurosurgeon Julian Bailes, chairman of the medical advisory board for the Pop Warner youth football organization, has studied the brains of former NFL players who had depression and dementia and found a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in four of them. USA Today notes that researchers made similar findings in the brain of Duerson, the Bears player who killed himself.

4) It’s questionable how much protection helmets offer.

It’s possible that better helmets with more padding might offer more protection; Virginia Tech researchers provide detailed rankings of ten different football helmets.

But another study has found that while some popular helmets provided protection for linear impacts (which cause bruising and skull fracture), they provided “little or no protection against angular acceleration, a dangerous source of brain injury and encephalopathy.”

That is, helmets are optimized to protect players from bruising but not from the additional trauma from a concussion after “the brain keeps moving [and at a fast rate] until it collides with the inside of the skull,”as Kevin Cook (author of The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless ’70s — the Era That Created Modern Sports) writes in the New York Times.

As Time magazine put it, “no magic football helmet can prevent players from sustaining concussions.”

5) Former pro football players are suing the NFL over the dangers of concussions.

Over 3,000 have sued the NFL on the grounds that they were not informed of the dangers of concussions, that the league failed to protect them and that it should provide them with medical care.

Cook notes that the NFL tests players using written or computerized cognitive tests to assess concussions at the start of each season:

… players are shown a page featuring 20 words and asked to write down as many as they remember when the page is taken away. The same with 20 simple pictures: Draw as many as you can remember. Later, after an on-field hammering rings their mental bells, the pros take the same test. Match your baseline results or sit out.

Some players cheat. They purposely give wrong answers on the preseason baseline test in hopes of passing the test when they’re concussed. But no screening plan is foolproof, and this one has the virtue of simplicity. Every college and high school football program should use such a test until we find something better.

Should not such tests be administered more frequently? For children who play football, could teachers be trained to look for warning signs of brain injury in students who play football?

Protecting the Brains of Young Football Players

For reasons other than a concussion during a football game, we have had to take Charlie to the emergency room for head trauma and I can tell you that, as a parent, it is very scary to know that your child has a potentially serious brain injury with possible lifelong consequences.

It’s a very good thing that more than 30 states now have laws under which schools or leagues cannot allow those who have suffered a concussion on school grounds to play without medical clearance. Washington state first passed such a law, the Zackery Lystedt Law, in 2006, after 13-year-old Lystedt suffered a concussion in a middle school game, went back to play and collapsed; he suffered brain damage extensive enough that he required surgery and, at his high school graduation, could only walk a few steps.

The Pop Warner youth football organization is also limiting how many full-speed collisions and other contact players can be allowed in practice.

But whether such changes will be enough to assuage parents worried about their children’s heads and future remains to be seen.


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9:08AM PDT on Sep 30, 2012

Kevin B., you crack me up! Football, hockey, and boxing are just plain too dangerous for kids' brains. The aftereffects can last a lifetime and can cause pain and suffering years later. I don't want to put my kid in a bubble, but I don't want to send him into an arena where frequent injuries are commonplace, either.

8:29AM PDT on Sep 30, 2012

AMEN! football is dangerous and pointless! there are so many other sports out there that kids can play and enjoy, football doesn't have to be one of them.

12:39PM PDT on Sep 25, 2012

Kids' brains don't need football? How about their bodies? I have a good friend who has suffered severe back pain since his early teens due to an injury received in a supervised school team football game. For my brother-in-law, it's a hip. Of the 5 adult men I have know best for the past 40 years, 3 played football and 2 receiving lasting injury from doing so. Not very good odds.

The fun to be had and the lessons to be learned from playing team sports (and I'm all for these, by the way) can be had in sports less likely to cause permanent injury. Bashes and bang-ups and even broken bones can be the result of all kinds of kids' play, but football seems to hold the record for serious injuries with lasting consequences.

4:48PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

You either let them learn sports, where the injuries can be controlled and reduced, or you have the overprotected little (censored) shooting, beating, knifing, or otherwise killing each other because they haven't been taught that a supervised fight is a better way. Switch the early football runs to flag or touch, but don't do away with good sports! Dealing with competition in a civilised productive manner instead of outright war is too important!

1:07PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

Hey I played football in high school and college and I don't have any problems. You people are just a bunch a minute...what were we talking about?

7:44AM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

3:38AM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

It's like the ancient Roman gladiatorial games. One expects victims. Then of course they can be contemptuously looked down upon by Romney.

10:24PM PDT on Sep 22, 2012

The next sport that needs attention is soccer. I have a niece who plays on two teams--one private and one at her middle school. She is currently suffering from a concussion resulting from a soccer ball slamming her in the head. It was kicked by her coach! Her grandma was struck in the face by a stray soccer ball at one of her games and suffered a broken nose with permanent damage. The human brain is not fully developed until age 18 or thereabouts. We don't know the full extent of damage caused by head trauma to our children, but it's a "no-brainer" (pardon the pun) that it has the potential to steal their lives, health and futures. We need to examine the coaching, culture, laws, ethics, industry, institutions, equipment, rules, incentives and financial motives at work in youngsters' athletic programs and then resolve to support medical research, technological development, education, regulation, standardization of medical care and anything else necessary to achieve maximum protection of our athletes......beginning with our precious child athletes.

10:13PM PDT on Sep 22, 2012

My brother played football in high school and suffered a severe neurological injury to his neck. Not having been taught how to tackle to avoid injury, he tackled a player but in the process hit the player in the hip with the top of his head. He was temporarilly knocked out, but due to the neck injury, was blind for hours and would sporadically go blind for short periods over the next few days, the right side of his body is permanently insensate, he had to start wearing glasses, and his physical response time was significantly lengthened. Thankfully, he gave up football, however, he did play Lacrosse in college; what are you going to do? When it was time that my son might play a sport, in school, I was so glad that he never wanted to play football (or any other organized sport).

9:36PM PDT on Sep 22, 2012

American football and hockey are barbaric and shouldn't even be called "sports". Thanks Kristina for the informative article.

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