Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Rethinking youth football and risks of head trauma

Last week, we raised the question: Is football too dangerous for kids? Just so inherently violent that, before a certain age, say 13, the simple act of participation places kids at an unacceptably high risk of serious injury? For those of us persuaded that it's a question worth raising, here's Exhibit A.

So far, research has linked head trauma resulting in permanent brain injury to football players as early as the college ranks. Last month, the New York Times reported on the case of Owen Thomas, captain of the football squad at the University of Pennsylvania.

Thomas, an outwardly happy student and accomplished player, hanged himself after what the Times story described as "a sudden and uncharacteristic emotional collapse." Thomas was 21, the youngest player yet discovered with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease thought to affect moods and impulse control.

Is there any doubt that a high school player soon will be diagnosed with C.T.E?

Banning youth football may not be the answer. But the response has to be very bold. The best suggestion I've heard so far comes from Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard defensive tackle and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine.

Last Sunday, Nowinski wrote a piece in the Times that proposed this:

Football needs “hit counts” like youth baseball has “pitch counts.” In baseball, all kids are subject to restrictions because some may suffer cumulative injuries to their elbows. Yet in football we’ve never thought the brain, which is more important than the elbow, could be subject to the same kind of cumulative injury. That is insanity.

I imagine there will be lots of comment about how difficult it would be to monitor hits and enforce a "hit count." For years, youth baseball coaches said the same thing about pitch counts, which are now uncontroversial and common.

No comments: