By Ken Reed

In the early days of American football, skull fractures and severe head lacerations were a major problem. Today’s high-tech helmets have virtually eliminated skull fractures and lacerations from the game.

However, despite the hopes and wishes of parents, coaches, and players, there’s very little a helmet can do to prevent concussions and other forms of brain trauma. The reason is that the brain is like Jell-O bouncing up against the walls of the skull after a blow to the head. It’s the whiplash effect that leads to concussions, not necessarily strikes to the head. That’s why players can receive concussions without even being hit in the head. A blow to the chest can send the brain splashing against the skull with as much force as a head-to-head shot.

Bottom line, there simply isn’t a way to design a helmet that will prevent the brain from bouncing up against the walls of the skull after contact.

That’s a serious legal and economic problem for football helmet manufacturers. They certainly understand this. Consider this warning label on Schutt football helmets: “No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”

“The language has definitely ratcheted up to make people understand that the helmet can’t prevent all injuries,” says Mark Granger, a lawyer who helps companies write product warnings.

The brain trauma issue isn’t just a legal and economic concern for helmet manufacturers. State high school athletic associations and high school athletic directors across the country are being forced to face a potential scenario in which a spate of concussion lawsuits results in insurance premiums rising too high for schools to be able to continue offering football to students.

And it’s just not concussions we’re concerned about today. Repetitive subconcussive hits to the head may cause as much damage as concussion-causing hits. Purdue researchers have compared changes in the brains of high school football players who had suffered concussions with the brains of high school football players who were concussion free and found brain tissue damage in both. That’s scary stuff. That means brain injuries are occurring without players, coaches or parents being aware of it.

The mound of research studies highlighting the dangers to the brain from playing football continues to grow. It’s becoming increasingly clear that football is too dangerous for the human brain. It’s hazardous to one’s health. That makes the fact that approximately 1.3 million high school football players are starting football practice this month in preparation for a new season scary indeed.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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