Increasing reports of serious, long-term health problems from repeated blows to the head are causing more parents to keep their children out of high-impact sports like football, and leaving many to wonder if the sport is headed for extinction if new rules are not adopted to protect athletes.
In the past few years, dementia-like symptoms in professional football players have made scientists wonder if brains damaged during hard hits to the head on the playing field may have contributed to their degenerative brain diseases later in life. As of 2012, 33 former National Football League (NFL) players have been diagnosed post-mortem with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease caused by multiple concussions and other forms of head injury.
The condition causes symptom of dementia including memory loss, aggressive behavior and mood swings. Several of the athletes diagnosed with CTE committed violent acts including murder and suicide.
It didn’t take long for the focus of concern to turn to younger football players – those in college and even high school. An estimated 25,000 high school players are sent to emergency rooms each year with football-related head injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Just last month, a 16-year-old high school running back died following a helmet-to-helmet collision. Between 2000 and 2012, 39 high school athletes died from injuries sustained on the football field.
It’s no surprise that these reports would raise red flags with parents. The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that since the 2008-2009 season, high school football participation numbers have steadily decreased. Experts say if the trend continues, rules will have to change for the NFL to survive.
Changes go beyond improving helmets, which cannot protect against the sudden acceleration and deceleration that shake the brain within the skull and cause concussions. It involves better diagnosing head trauma when it occurs and making sure athletes are fully recovered from the damage before they are put back in play. That can mean sidelining the player for days, weeks or even months, compared to minutes or not at all.
Some changes in regulation have already been made. For example, 49 states have adopted concussion legislation to protect school-age players. Pop Warner, the largest national youth football league, made regulations forbidding head-to-head contact and all drills that begin with players more than three yards apart and involving full-speed, head-on collisions. Even the NFL is following suit with a new ban on hitting with the crown of the helmet outside the tackle box, and a ban on most tackling during pre-season training camps.
The new rules are a step in the right direction, but are they enough to protect the players from long-term injury? Only time will tell.
Source: The Atlantic