By Ken Reed

Football starts in earnest this weekend for youth, high school, and college football teams. It’s estimated that there are 3.5 million youth football players, 1.3 million high school football players, and 100,000 college football players in this country.

The vast majority of the players and their parents aren’t aware of the brain trauma risks involved with football, don’t know the signs and symptoms of concussion, and aren’t familiar with recommended return-to-play guidelines if a player is suspected of possibly having a concussion.

That’s scary because there’s a growing mound of research that concludes that football is dangerous to the human brain. Recently, more and more researchers and doctors have become vocal in expressing their concerns about the safety of football, and whether or not young people should be participating in the game.

Youngsters are at much greater risk than adults in terms of concussion … because their brains are not myelinated fully,” says Dr. Robert Cantu.

“Myelin is the coating of nerve fibers like coating on the telephone wire. It gives better transmission, but it also gives it greater strength. So a child’s brain is much more easily damaged from acceleration forces imparted to it. … youngsters have disproportionately large heads, very weak necks. And this combination means that a force delivered to a youngster will have much greater injurious effects to the brain.”

Lewis Margolis and Gregory Margolis, public health researchers, believe that the people who are aware of the research on football, brain trauma, and the short and long-term effects of brain injuries, need to speak out more often and more forcefully.

“Football-related head trauma and concussions have raised sentinel alarms, so all who care about children and young adults must not remain silent as this epidemic spreads. The principles of informed consent, nonmaleficence, fairness, and community participation demand a halt in the way the game is played, until the risks are better understood and controlled.”

Co-authors of an Indiana University study looking at football-related health incidents, Dr. Jared R. Brosch and Dr. Meredith R. Golomb wrote:

“Organized childhood tackle football in the United States can begin at age 5 years, leading to potentially decades of repeated brain injuries. In addition, the body mass index of the United States pediatric football-playing population continues to increase, so the forces experienced by tackled pediatric players continue to increase. Further work is needed to understand how repeated high-impact large-force trauma from childhood football affects the immature central nervous system.”

On a personal level, one expert on football injuries has already seen enough research.

“If I had a son now, there’s no way in hell he’d play football. Wouldn’t happen,” says Dr. Charles Yesalis. “I couldn’t permit it as an epidemiologist.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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