Brain Injuries of Tackle Football

This post is based on an article with a similar title by Robert C. Cantu and Mark Hyman in the Health & Science Section of the 20 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The authors ask that the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams post the following statement:
SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Tackle football is dangerous for children. Children who play football absorb repeated hits to the head. As adults, they’re at higher risk of suffering cognitive deficits as well as behavioral and mood problems.
The authors suggest that this warning be placed on every youth football helmet and placed in bold type on all youth tackle football registration forms. A parent or guardian wouldn’t be able to sign up their children without seeing it.

Since 2015, Boston University’s (BU) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center has published three studies all leading to the following conclusion: Adults who played tackle football as children were more likely to deal with emotional and cognitive challenges later in life.

One study dug into the sports-playing pasts of 214 former football players. They found that starting as a player in a tackle football program before age 12 corresponded with increased odds for clinical depression, apathy and executive function problems—for example, diminished insight, judgment, and multitasking.

In another study, researchers zeroed in on the effects of head slams by comparing groups of adults who started in football before and after age 12 and who went on to develop CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive hits in sports. Those in the study who played before age 12 experienced cognitive deficits—also behavioral and mood problems—a full 13 years earlier than those starting at 12 or older. For every year younger that someone was exposed to tackle football, the start of cognitive problems occurred 2.4 years earlier.

All states have concussion laws, which acquire special attention for athletes when they suffer concussions. But concussions are not a necessary condition for cognitive and behavioral problems. In the BU studies, brain injury was not linked to concussion but to long-term exposure to repeated subconcussive hits. Long-term exposure to subconcussive hits has been associated with CTE. The problem with subconcussive hits is that they become a problem years after they occur.

Now is a good time to review the true virtue of sports. They develop teamwork and promote physical health. So, why then, do sports that injure body and mind continue? Perhaps adults might continue so they could prosper in professional sports. But why should they be allowed, much less promoted for, children.

Previous healthy memory sports have pointed up the obvious irony of playing of football in institutions devoted to learning and healthy brains. The obvious justification for continuing to play these sports is money. Some universities and colleges are nothing more than fronts for football teams that ooze money into the university. Unfortunately, there are too many alumni who care only about the success of their teams, and not the quality of education offered at their schools, nor considerations about the future brain and mental health of future alumni.

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