Patrick Hruby has written an outstanding article on the subject of brain trauma and the implications for the future of football for Yahoo! Sports’ new online magazine ThePostGame. It’s eye-opening, scary, and impactful.
It’s hard to read this piece and not come away thinking that football’s days are numbered — at least as a mainstream youth activity and sport sanctioned by public schools. Football is simply too dangerous. Rule changes and equipment advances won’t ultimately be able to save the sport for our young people. The sport of football, by its nature, causes numerous jolts to the skull, meaning the brain is regularly tossed around inside that skull like jello.
We’ve known for several years now that concussions aren’t good for short-or-long-term health. We’ve heard that Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), a second blow to the brain quickly following a concussion, can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. In recent years, we’ve heard about how a history of concussions is associated with a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE symptoms include depression, erratic behavior, memory lapses, and eventually dementia. But the scariest findings coming out of recent brain trauma research is that repetitive subconcussive hits can have major negative consequences for the brain — especially the young developing brain. A football player (or hockey or soccer player, or anyone who is the victim of repetitive brain trauma can develop CTE even without having suffered a concussion. Wow.
“Evidence suggests that CTE — the silent killer, the disease that turns players’ brains into ticking time bombs, slowly driving them mad — is caused not only by concussions but also by sub-concussive trauma,” writes Hruby. “Little hits. Little hits like the 1,000 – 1,500 blows to the head that the average high school football lineman absorbs in a single season, according to estimates by Boston researchers.”
Can football be saved for our young people? Undoubtedly, every attempt will be made to find a way to make football safer. Limiting the number of hits to the head that players receive in practice is probably the first place to start. But ultimately, the question is, how “brain safe” can tackle football ever be?
“Protect our national pastime,” writes Hruby. “Protect our children’s brains. The hope is that we can do both. Biology and physics suggest otherwise. Safer does not mean safe.”
We’re at the beginning of the end for youth and high school football.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.