Youth Football and Concussions: A Neurosurgeon’s Point of View
An interesting article appeared in USA Today a couple of weeks ago and discusses a lecture that Sandra Chapman, Ph.D. gave to a group of football coaches at a conference in Indianapolis.
“Youth football’s benefits to health and well-being far, far exceed the risks,” Chapman, who is not a medical doctor but founded the Center for BrainHealth at UT-Dallas in 1999, told the American Football Coaches Association. Her logic is, of course, deeply flawed. What she is stating basically is that in order to obtain the benefits of playing a team sport one has to risk a concussion and that for most children these concussions do not lead to permanent brain injury. Discussing the second assumption first, it has yet to be determined what effect even a single concussion has on a person many years later. How can one possibly know what a person would have been like years later if they had not had the concussion?
There is clear evidence that multiple concussions can lead to brain damage recognized years later. The fallacy of her logic is even more evident in primary assumption. There is no requirement that children must risk having concussions in order to play team sports. Certainly in day-to-day life there is always a risk of a head injury, but generally we make every effort to avoid it. No one disputes the value of athletics and team sports and I need not list all the benefits here.
However, we can do many things from changing the rules of these games to better protective gear in order to markedly reduce the risk of receiving a concussion when playing a sport. Suffering a concussion should not be an anticipated risk of playing a sport, but rather a very rare event occurring outside the bounds of “normal” play.