People may be saying, “Aww” about the cute pee-wee football players featured alongside NFL quarterback Cam Newton in Buick’s Super Bowl ad, but one major element was overlooked: Those little boys were playing tackle football.
Maybe some parents dream of the day their little baller will have the opportunity to become the next star of the Carolina Panthers or the New England Patriots, but playing football comes with consequences: most notably, traumatic brain injuries.
The Research Does Not Lie
Football alters the brains of children as young as 8 years old. Unfortunately, when children don’t show outward signs of injury, they are often cleared to get right back in the game. A study from the Radiological Society of North America found that even youth football players who have never had a concussion diagnosis experienced measurable brain changes associated with traumatic brain injury after a single season of playing football.
In the past three years, 47 kids have died while playing football. Of these almost 50 deaths, 17 of them are directly related to head injuries that were suffered during football practice or during a game. A recent GQ Magazine feature highlighted the trauma of former high school football player Zac Easter who took his own life, believing his pain and suffering was directly caused by head injuries while playing the game he loved.
Knowing that brain injuries are affecting adults is one thing. Allowing these injuries to occur in the youngest athletes among us is unconscionable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a guide to helmet safety, no matter what sport your child plays. And they promote their Heads Up program that focuses on concussion recognition, diagnosis, and safety. But these fact sheets and statistics can only do so much. The only safety against head injuries in contact sports is to not play the sport at all. And there are far too many dreamers and football fanatics out there to put a stop to tackle football, even if the littlest ones among us are put at risk.
From Pee-Wee to the NFL
There is no denying that traumatic brain injuries are rife in the NFL. From Frank Gifford to Tyler Sash to Mike Webster, the deaths of many former football legends have been followed by careful brain testing to determine if they suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Hard-hitting defensive back Andre Waters played for the Philadelphia Eagles, and committed suicide in 2006 at the age of 44. An autopsy found that his brain tissue resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. And in the wake of Super Bowl Sunday wrap-ups, former Tennessee Titan Frank Wycheck has revealed that he believes he is absolutely suffering from CTE, suffering symptoms like memory loss, depression, and migraine headaches.
Family members dubbed this past Super Bowl Sunday as CTE Awareness Day in Houston, bringing together the mother of a young man who committed suicide (and whose brain was later found to be riddled with CTE) as well as the sister of former NFLer Junior Seau.
Football has a rich heritage, an amazing fan base, and a feeling of power all rolled into one. But it also has a dangerous and fatal legacy that is growing rather than shrinking.
About: David Christensen specializes in helping families and victims with brain injuries collect no-fault benefits after an accident. Christensen Law is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Southfield, Michigan.