James Bukes fears legal liabilities stemming from permanent injuries and even deaths will mean the end of high school and college football:
Between 1990 and 2010, scholastic and collegiate football fatalities averaged 12.2 per year. The most common causes of death were cardiac problems, brain injury and heat illness, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury. The effects of concussions and brain injuries often are manifested several years after the injuries themselves. Many players seem fine for years after high school and college play, only to have severe mental problems starting in their late 30s and 40s.
Potential players and their parents are taking notice. According to the journal Neurotrauma, Pop Warner youth football participation dropped 9.5 percent between 2010 and 2012. In some of the wealthier suburbs of Pittsburgh, such as Upper St. Clair, more and more parents will not allow their sons to go out for football. Even President Barack Obama has said that if he had a son, he would not allow the boy to play football.
Concussion lawsuits, originally the province of the NFL, have been filed against high schools and colleges. Public school systems have been sued and judgments entered against them.
Kathleen Doheny reports that concussion rates in high school athletics have more than doubled in the last 10 years:
“The bottom line is that rates have gone up,” said lead researcher Dr. Joseph Rosenthal, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Ohio State University. “We don’t know the exact reason. This was an observational study, so I can’t say for sure, but I believe what is explaining the increase is the increased awareness, not that sports are more dangerous. It’s just that the concussions are being recognized more, which is good news.”
Apparently, some athletes don’t have to have recognized head trauma or witnessed concussions to suffer permanent brain damage. Joseph Stromberg looked at a recent JAMA study that showed even mild hits in football can result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE):
The study found that the more years they’d played, the smaller the volume of their hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory. Most disturbingly, this shrinkage appears to be correlated to hits so mild they didn’t even cause concussions — the players showed this trend whether they’d suffered concussions or not.
This juxtaposition is an unsettling reminder that football might be more popular than ever, but scientists keep reaching ever-more disturbing conclusions about the long-term health problems — mainly depression, emotional instability and dementia — that players suffer as a result of concussions on the field.
There are professional football players, however, who really don’t care. Mike Chiari found one:
Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte is well aware that injuries suffered while playing in the NFL could adversely impact or even shorten his life. Despite that frightening possibility, he has no qualms about continuing to live out his dream.
In an interview with WBBM Newsradio in Chicago (h/t ESPN.com) on Monday, the 25-year-old defensive back revealed that premature death is a trade-off he can accept if it means being able to play the sport he loves at the highest level.
President Obama understands the concerns of parents of young athletes, says Linda Carroll. The president “probably had multiple “mild” concussions when he played sports — and thought nothing of it at the time.”:
Across the country, Obama said, parents are having a “troubling conversation, and that’s about the risks of concussions. Every season you’ve got boys and girls who are getting concussions in lacrosse and soccer and wrestling and ice hockey, as well as football. And, in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in the most recent data available to us, young people made nearly 250,000 emergency room visits with brain injuries from sports and recreation — 250,000. That number obviously doesn’t include kids who see their family doctor or, as it typical, don’t seek any medical help.”
Bukes, a former judge, examines a few pending lawsuits from around the country and concludes:
These suits and decisions will be the death knell for high-school and probably college football, and possibly basketball, if schools do not make major changes to the game as well as changes in how they treat their student athletes.
If your son begged you to let him play football, would you?