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
Sports Forum Podcast
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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