Is concussion research causing a decline in football participation?
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Fear of players' injuries focuses the minds of high school football coaches, players and parents. Why? Look no further than recent research linking the popular sport to concussive brain injury.
"In a convenience sample of 202 deceased players of American football from a brain donation program, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87 percent), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99 percent)," according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
CTE, a degenerative disease of the brain that results from traumatic injuries such as concussions, was present in younger football players, too: "3 of 14 high school (21 percent), [and] 48 of 53 college (91 percent)" athletes. The JAMA study is the biggest to date. By comparison, a 2009 study investigated 48 cases CTE of due to any cause, e.g., at and away from the football field.
I am no scholar or scientist. Rather, I write as a former college football player, beginning my career at Boise State University in 1974, with concerns about CTE and youth today.
Bear with me. My wife and I are two of the 7 million American grandparents who live with at least a single grandchild, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, we are rearing our grandson, age 7. We fret he is at risk of CTE if he opts to play tackle football in high school.
Back in my football-playing days, players and coaches scant thought to head injuries. That yesterday is far away from what we know in 2017. Thus, we are nudging our grandson to dance, basketball and swimming. So far, so good.
We want him to avoid the big contact hits on the gridiron that elicit oohs and aahs from the crowd but also deliver long-term health issues to the players. There are also football practices and scrimmages, where opportunities for concussions abound.
Today, the link between concussion and football is a source of angst among parents. I recall discussing this injury topic with my neighbor, whose son went on to play one season of high school football.
There is more than talking football going on. There is walking away from the sport, too.
High school football participation dropped 3.12 percent over the past year in the Golden State, the most populous in the country, according to the California Interscholastic Federation. There were 107,916 high school football players in 2007 versus 97,079 in 2017 in the state.
That brings us to Dr. Bennet Omalu, who Will Smith played in the 2015 movie "Concussion." As the first scientist to discover CTE as a football-related condition, Omalu recently said that parents who let their kids play the sport are guilty of child abuse. That is not a typo.
Parents' concern about their children's current and future health and well-being in part puts the future of football, a multibillion-dollar business, in question. The NFL reaped over $13 billion in revenue last year, far outstripping Major League Baseball, which earned $9.5 billion, MarketWatch reports.
Of course, young people, being impulsive creatures, can tend to choose the sports their parents object to. I sit accused of defying my parents' wishes as a teen and young adult.
However, one other thing is clear to me. The last chapter of the high school football and concussive brain injury story remains untold. Much is at stake for many, from high school football players to their coaches, the sportswriters who cover the games, and last but not least the NFL.
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