by Craig Maltby for Club LT
Unless you’ve been living in Wakanda or Atlantis the past several years, you’ve no doubt heard and read about the terrible problem of brain injuries discovered among former NFL football players. The Will Smith movie Concussion also received a lot of attention when it came out. I watched it. It was gripping.
Many of these injuries are called CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, where the brain begins degenerating from years of repeated impact to the head. Symptoms of this condition include memory loss, moodiness and quick anger, aggression, confusion, loss of motor skills, and possible dementia. Some victims have committed suicide due to severe depression triggered by CTE.
With all that bad stuff now out in the open, kids continue to sign up for football. From little tykes on up, though there are now new guidelines against hitting and tackling at young ages. Rules have evolved to protect against intentional head-to-head collisions. Football helmets at all levels have been redesigned to better absorb and protect against hits to the head.
Still, parents have decisions to make. Participation in high school football has decreased 6.6 percent in the past decade. Fear of concussions and resulting health problems is a large reason why, although the growing emphasis on specialization in football, cost of participation and school budgets in smaller districts are also reasons.
The thing about CTE is, the symptoms generally don’t show up until years after a football career is over. And newer research suggests neurological problems can be more common in adults who played tackle football for at least 9 years and for those who played tackle football before age 12. Many experts are saying tackle football should never be played before players are age 14 or older.
In other words, you don’t have to be an NFL player to experience concussion–related symptoms later in life. If you played tackle football in youth leagues, middle school and high school and had a lot of hits to the head, your risk for brain condition symptoms later in life is likely greater.
At the same time, most former NFL players don’t have CTE. There is still more research to do on why some suffer from it and many don’t.
Bottom line: it’s your choice. But keep a careful eye on your son (or daughter) if they choose to be a football player. Repeated shots to the head over a period of years may have consequences.