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
Sports Forum Podcast
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 long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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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.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
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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