Tackles to traction: Kids playing football a recipe for trouble
When people see my son, because of his large size they often say he’s going to be a linebacker. Many parents would be thrilled to hear such a prediction about a son, but I'm not many parents.
Before my son was born I decided he wouldn’t play football. Baseball, yes. Basketball, yes. Tennis, lacrosse, track: yes, yes, yes. But football, no.
The more we learn about football, the harder it is to justify allowing people to play it, especially children. When I was in middle school, a boy on our JV team had his femur snapped during a game. The sight made us turn away in horror. It was nearly a year before the boy could walk, and he never played football again. At the time it seemed the worst injury the sport could inflict. If only that were the case.
In 2009, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, concluded a study on concussions in high school athletes that made a protruding femur look as serious as an ingrown toenail. As many as 40.5 percent of high school athletes who sustain concussions return to action prematurely; 16 percent of football players reported returning to play the same day they lost consciousness (remember not every concussion causes a blackout).
The study’s director “conservatively” estimated that high school athletes sustained more than 130,000 concussions in 2008, and the CDC reported that for kids ages 15-24, sports are second only to car accidents as the leading cause of brain injury.
Immediately after reviewing the Children’s Hospital study, the National Federation of State High School Associations sent a revised concussion pamphlet to coaches.
“We're trying to keep this a front-burner issue," a federation representative said. Two years later, the only standardized test for football helmets (a test administered by helmet manufacturers and not an independent agency) remains whether they protect from skull fractures. Nothing about concussions.
But on May 10, 2011, after eight years of research, Virginia Tech released its football helmet performance study, the first of its kind to be released publicly. I was surprised to learn that two of the most popular helmets among teenagers (one is discontinued but still in use) are the lowest-ranked in concussion protection. But I was disgusted to learn that “Helmet companies have for years agreed among themselves not to disclose this type of testing data to the public because of how it can be misinterpreted” (NYTimes).
Schopenhauer may be misinterpreted, but not the dangers of football.
Purdue professor Eric Nauman was studying the brains of high school athletes when he found those who were “concussion-free” often showed as much brain damage as those who were concussed. Misinterpret this: high school players frequently sustain 1,500 head impacts a year, each carrying a 40G force, repeatedly damaging the frontal lobe (motor function, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, impulse control, etc.).
“It's very hard to find the players in this group," said Nauman. "Our fear is that they go undiagnosed, keep playing, and accumulate more and more damage.”
Football is an ambition for many American boys, but my son will not play football; and I know that's the right decision.
“Now that I've seen the pictures of brain changes among 'concussion-free' players," Nauman said, "I would no more let a school-age child of mine play competitive football than I would let him or her start smoking.”
A picture in my senior yearbook shows a football player in a blood-splattered uniform. He's obviously hurt, but I wonder if his mother would have so lustily cheered his return to the game had she known her son’s helmet was just for show, and that the worst cuts and bruises could very well be in his brain.
Juanita lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son and many dogs.Read more on: football safety