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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