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Opinion: Youth Football Will Fade in Popularity

Blogger Douglas W. Green, EdD says contact violence in spectator sports at the K-12 level are too risky, and will soon fade as concerns over health issues—specifically brain damage or injuries—increase. 

In a piece written for Education Week, Green takes a cut into contact student athletics, and points out the fundamental issues to their inclusion in academia when they can (and often do) lead to harmful injuries. 

“We may have reached a tipping point as 57 percent of parents, according to a recent ESPN survey, say that the recent news makes them concerned about letting their kids play youth football. It seems, therefore, that it is just a matter of time before schools either fail to field a team or cancel football to avoid liability issues,” said Green in the post. 

He compares the recent knowledge of the risks associated with sustaining multiple concussions with the knowledge of the risks associated with smoking. Much like smoking, it’s illogical that the majority of people while continue the practice with the knowledge of the long-term effects from sports-related concussions out there. It’s all about awareness. Now that parents know how harmful the lasting effects of playing these sports can be, much like smoking, why would they let their children take the risk? 

Dr. Alexander K. Powers, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Brenner Children’s Hospital at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, addressed the issue of sustaining multiple concussions long-term in an article for the hospital’s website. 

“Let me start with some figures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 135,000 children ages 5 to 18 for sports-related brain injuries. Most of these injuries are concussions, and the children recover. But the prognosis for children who suffer repeated concussions, even mild ones, is unknown,” said Powers in the article. “It’s hard to imagine your child as a disabled, middle-aged man, but repeated concussions could put a child at risk for such crippling conditions as early onset dementia, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders that require neurosurgery that no one wants to think about on the sidelines at a football game.”

With a device called an accelerometer installed inside player helmets, Powers and his colleagues are able to accurately gauge the force sustained when a player is hit in ongoing studies. This allows for closer reviews for concussions when the physical signs aren’t there. So far, the data shows that impact location and force are drastically different from position to position on the football field, and indicate that players could and should use different protective equipment according to what position they play. 

“My hope is that eventually all football helmets will be equipped with devices that measure the force of a blow. We’ll provide coaches with hard data, so they know that if a player gets hit at a certain force he needs to come out of the game and rest. The hope is to be able to say, ‘That guy had a hit. Even though he’s not showing signs of concussion, he needs to be checked out before another play.’ Until then, I’ll be preaching prevention,” said Powers. 

Green also included “basketball, soccer, and lacrosse” as contact sports that can have the same “opportunities for life-changing injuries” and calls out on cheerleading as the risk-factor equivalent sport for girls as football is to boys. 

“If your kid plays a sport that features an EMT van on the sideline you should probably think again,” Green poses in the piece.  

While most injuries aren’t traumatic enough to require an EMT, the minor ones are often poorly dealt with, if at all. Without proper rest after even the most mild of concussions, lasting results can be felt. 

“Our culture works against taking a player out of a game, let alone excusing him from practice for a couple of weeks. Young athletes are supposed to be tough. Coaches --- and parents --- expect them to keep playing, in spite of injury. I hear too many youth football coaches say, ‘He just took a ding,’ when the fact is the player was hit hard enough for a brain injury. He needs rest, not playing time. Young brains are still growing. That’s why children and teenagers have such an enormous capacity to learn,” Powers noted in his piece. “Their growing brains also make them more vulnerable to injury. Children and teens are more likely to get a concussion than an adult. And the younger they are, the longer it takes for them to recover.” 

Read the full story here. Note: Education Week has a tiered subscription model for its articles.

Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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