By Ken Reed

Time magazine recently had a cover article written by Sean Gregory entitled, “He Died Playing This Game: Is Football Worth It?

The story deals with high school football player Chad Stover, who died last year due to a brain injury incurred during a playoff football game.

However, the article also deals with the risk of football-related brain trauma in general, at all levels of the game.

The article points out that in a court filing made public on Sept. 12, the NFL estimated that nearly one-third of former players “will develop dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other debilitating neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and ALS.”

Regarding the high school game, in a study published on Sept. 17, researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health found that football had the highest incidence of concussion rates in high school sports, nearly 45% more than the runner-up sport, girls’ soccer.

Even if you believe the concussion crisis in football is overblown, it’s important to understand that you don’t need to suffer a concussion to have long-term brain damage from football. Numerous sub-concussive hits (such as those incurred by linemen repeatedly butting heads in practice and games) to the brain can cause many of the same neurological problems as full-blown concussions. As the Time piece points out, a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study found that players with no record of a concussion still had significantly less than normal volume in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory. A similar study by researchers at the University of Rochester revealed that the brains of college players with concussion-free histories had significant changes in the white matter of the brain, which is crucial for basic cognitive functions.

Nevertheless, high school football should be our focus as a nation because of the sheer number of kids playing the high school game and because the brains of young people in high school aren’t fully developed, making them more prone to brain injuries. Moreover, high school students are minors, and thus, don’t have the knowledge and life experience required to always make decisions in their best short or long-term interests.

The onus when it comes to high school football is on the adults involved: parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, trainers, doctors, etc.

Those adults should fully consider this paragraph from the Time article:

“Football is, at its core, a violent sport. In games, every play is a collision of bodies — and often brains. And the potential for danger is particularly acute at the high school level, where concussion rates are 78% higher than in college football, according to the Institute of Medicine. Eight people died playing football in 2013 … all were high school players. During the 2013-14 academic year, no other high school sport directly killed even one athlete.”

And its not just the risk of death or catastrophic paralyzing brain injuries that parents and other adults involved with young athletes should be made aware of. It’s the negative quality of life impact of progressive neurological brain disease, which can be the result of repetitive sub-concussive brain damage, not just concussions.

The brain isn’t like an ankle, knee, or shoulder. It’s the seat of the personality. Torn ACLs can be fixed. Brain disease like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can’t.

In the end, I think this is the key question: Wherever you personally stand on the risks of high school football relative to the perceived benefits, isn’t it fair that all parents with children interested in playing football are fully aware of the risks?

I think the answer is a resounding yes. That’s why I believe Gregory’s Time article, and/or something similar like a brain injury fact sheet, should be handed out to every parent attending meetings for prospective high school football players.

The reality is, it’s impossible to play football without regularly getting hit in the head. Parents should be fully aware of the potential ramifications of those blows before signing off on allowing their kids to play high school football.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.