I never played organized football. My parents — dad was a greatly respected doctor; mom, a greatly respected (at least by my brother and me) and effective full-time mom, part-time writer, and all-time provocateur — said, every time the subject of football came up, “No way!” Even pick-up tackle football games in a neighbor’s yard — no pads and helmets, where the rules were akin to the ever-popular game (popular among my peers, anyway), “Kill The Guy With The Ball” — were strictly forbidden. Playing any other sport, engaging in any other activity (that didn’t include guns, of course), or riding a bike without a helmet on the streets in the New Jersey suburbs (“and don’t come home until dinnertime”)? “No problem.”
But play tackle football? “Nope.”
I pleaded my case: “But I could be a punter or placekicker!”
The response from my parents was crystal clear: “Fuggedaboutit.”
It turns out a new study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery — Pediatrics suggests that a punter or placekicker would certainly be the safest positions to play. My parents didn’t raise no dummy:
High-magnitude head impacts most often involve positions such as quarterback, running back and linebacker as those players sprint across an open field, Virginia Tech researchers concluded after watching a season of youth football in Blacksburg, Va.
These players experienced nearly twice the number of severe head hits as linemen did, the study reported.
“Players who are able to get up to speed prior to impact, players who are off the line of scrimmage, those players are more likely to experience a high-magnitude head impact,” said lead researcher Eamon Campolettano. He is a graduate research assistant at the university’s department of biomedical engineering and mechanics.
My parents, of course, were no dummies either:
Campolettano and his colleagues classified high-magnitude impacts as those amounting to greater than 40 times the force of gravity — or 40g.
About 8 percent of the head impacts that occurred during youth play and practice were hard enough to be classified as high-magnitude, the researchers found.
One neurologist put that into perspective.
“That’s equivalent to getting punched in the head by a boxer,” said Dr. David Dodick, a professor of neurology with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. “No one would want their 9-year-old or 11-year-old punched in the head or involved in a boxing match, but that’s the kind of force some of these kids are exposed to regularly.”
The researchers from Virginia Tech (my wife and I didn’t raise any dummies either — our youngest son is a student there!) placed sensors that measure the force of impact in players’ helmets. The results of their study should be jarring for any parent deciding on whether or not to allow their son to play tackle football:
“Backs” players experienced 120 high-magnitude head impacts compared with 67 among linemen, the researchers found. Overall, the backs’ rate of heavy head impacts was 3.1 for every 100 plays, compared with 1.7 per 100 plays for linemen.
Overall, high-magnitude impacts in the open field accounted for about 59 percent of all severe head knocks during games and 67 percent of those that occurred during practice, the study reported.
High-magnitude impacts occurred more often during games than during practice sessions for both teams.
We’ve looked at a lot of the evidence here on The PediaBlog that would compel today’s parents to say “No!” when their sons ask for permission to play football. The growing evidence certainly backs those parents up:
“We’re seeing evidence the younger you expose kids to that kind of contact, the more likely it is they will have both psychiatric and neurological consequences down the road,” Dodick said. “These brains are developing. Kids this age are forming new connections in their brains all the time. If those connections are disrupted, that’s going to have consequences for these kids.”
Football? Say it with me: “Fuggedaboutit.”