by Ken Reed

As we’ve outlined in this blog, in an op-ed column, and in a position paper, there are numerous reasons why allowing public schools to use taxpayer dollars to sponsor an activity like football, which clearly causes brain damage, is illogical and irresponsible.

We can add another one: People who’ve suffered traumatic brain injuries are much more likely to exhibit anti-social and inappropriate behavior.

In a recent study by neurological researchers at the University of Denver, 96 percent of the inmates in a downtown Denver jail’s high-risk unit had a traumatic brain injury. The overall findings weren’t that surprising given the growing mound of research that’s found traumatic brain injury predates criminal activity. However, the high percentage was a surprise to researchers as national statistics show that 67 to 80 percent of inmates in jails and prisons have a traumatic brain injury. This compares to the general population, in which it’s estimated that 6 to 8.5 percent have a traumatic brain injury. The Denver jail findings were higher in part because it was a high-risk population that was studied (inmates who are considered a risk to themselves or others).

According to the Franklin Institute, “Researchers are finding more and more links between violent behavior and brain damage to certain regions of the brain.” Of particular concern are injuries to the prefrontal cortex region of the brain which is responsible for social and moral reasoning. Prefrontal cortex injuries in children are especially scary.

“Children who experience early damage in the prefrontal cortex never completely develop social or moral reasoning,” according to the Franklin Institute paper Protect – Watch Your Head. “As adults, even on an intellectual level, they cannot refer to such behavior because they have little concept of it.”

The Franklin paper goes on to stress the importance of protecting developing brains, most notably the prefrontal cortex, in children and adolescents:

“Because growth in the brain’s frontal regions continues throughout young adulthood, early injury there can damage formation of the protective myelin insulation around neurons . This can impair their ability to control emotions and inhibit inappropriate behavior. These kids have trouble responding to subtle social cues and planning difficult tasks.”

While other high school sports have relatively high concussion rates (e.g., ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer), football’s rate is considerably higher. Most importantly, for this discussion about whether football should remain in public schools, the games of ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer can be modified for certain ages without dramatically changing the essence of the sport. For example, in ice hockey, no fighting, no head contact of any kind, limited or no checking; in soccer, limited or no heading; and in lacrosse, no contact to the head with arms or a lacrosse stick. With football, it’s virtually impossible to take head contact out of the game, without resorting to flag football.

Moreover, it’s extremely unlikely that technology developments will lead to a football helmet that can prevent brain damage. Helmets are great at preventing skull fractures but concussions and sub-concussive brain injuries occur when the brain pounds against the side of the skull after contact, much in the way Jello sloshes against the side of a bowl after a quick movement. Helmets can’t prevent that effect. In addition, brain injuries in football also occur from the quick rotational impact following a hit. Once again, helmets can’t prevent that.

At any rate, the increasing amount of research in the area of brain injuries and violent, anti-social and inappropriate behavior provides more food for thought in the “Should football be in public schools?” debate.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

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