With the recent passing of NFL great Junior Seau, it has reopened the conversation of the results of concussions and long-lasting effects on the brain. There is a condition known as C.T.E. (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which is a progressive degenerative disease that is usually found post-mortem in people who have multiple concussions. Symptoms can include dementia, memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression.
Most often, C.T.E. can be found in football players, hockey players and boxers. With C.T.E. the combination of aggression and depression can lead to suicide. It is known within the football community, when a player commits suicide they will shoot themselves in the chest to preserve their brain for research. Last year when Pro-Bowl Safety Dave Duerson at the age of 50 ended his life with a gunshot to the chest, he left behind a note requesting for his brain to be autopsied for C.T.E.
I love football and part of the reason is for the hard hits and full contact. As a parent, I could not fathom losing a child to suicide from injuries obtained on the football field. It is hard enough to see players who are currently suffering from long term effects from their playing days, let alone when they take their own life from those injuries.
There is some numbers that don't add up to me. A child can start playing full- contact tackle football at the age of eight. Yet, their brain development does not stop until they are 11 or 12. I wonder what effect a concussion might have on a brain that is not fully developed. Not to mention at that age, the chest and neck muscles are also not fully developed enough to support the head and extra weight of gear and a helmet.
Something else that affects younger players is their decision-making skills. They are not able to make split-second decisions, which leads to the helmet-to-helmet contact. Youth players have more helmet-to-helmet hits per season then a high school, college or pro player. Even more of a concern is that the higher velocity hits come during practice, not during the game. Long-term injuries can occur at any age, not just in the pros.
There are always advancements in helmet safety. The highest-rated helmet costs $375, which most leagues are not going to purchase. If I were a parent of a player, I would spend the extra money to do what I could to protect my child from a head injury. What concerns me is that the issue of safety will come down to economics and those who can afford the safer helmets and those who can't.
There are no easy answers to this problem. As a parent, the best thing is to know the facts and the risks involved in youth football. A parent cannot rely on a coach to keep their child safe, that is up to the parent. When Dave Duerson was leaving high school, he had the chance to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers and play baseball instead of football. I wonder if he would have signed that contract, if he would still be here today.
Below are several links to help parents make an informed decision. Please take the time to read the Virginia Tech report on head injuries in youth football. It is the most recent study and one of the most indepth studies done on head injuries in youth players. Stone Phillips' report is also wealth of information.
Stone Phillips report, "Head Impacts in Youth Football":
Virginia Tech's2012 "Head Impact Study in Youth Football:"
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a campaign out called "Heads Up" to provide parents, athletes and coaches with concussion information:
What states have concussion laws and what those laws are: