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Concussion risks greater for young athletes
If President Obama had a son, he might not let him play football, the commander-in-chief told The New Republic in an interview published Jan. 27.
Obama said professional players are adults who understand the risks and are compensated, but the same cannot be said of college and high school athletes.
Judging by the data in a report published by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the president may have a good point. Last updated in September 2012, the report estimates fewer than 2 percent of NCAA senior football players will go on to play in
The underdeveloped brain may also be at higher risk than the developed brain for repeat concussions before it fully recovers from the first injury, according to a position statement about concussions by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, published in October 2012 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“The concern is that the injured brain is going to be re-injured more than the healed brain, and I think that holds across all age groups,” said Dr. William O. Roberts, one of the eight authors of the position statement. “But there’s more concern about re-injuring it in the kids because there’s not as much space inside the skull, and the brain may swell more.”
The position statement said there are between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports-related concussions each year in the United States, and 30 percent of all concussions in individuals between 5–19 years old are sports-related.
In 2012, high school football topped the list with a concussion rate of 0.64 per 1,000 athlete exposures, and in 2007, the rate at the collegiate level was estimated to be 0.37 per 1,000 athlete exposures, according to the
“If you have a thousand players playing football on a given day, roughly one will have a concussion,” Roberts said.
Dr. Paul Butler, a retired general surgeon who serves on the school board in Dover, N.H., implored his fellow school board members last October to begin the process of ending peewee and high school football in the district.
“Football’s the only game where the head is used as a weapon,” Butler said. “I think we’re risking our kids’ brains by encouraging them to play football by supporting it with public funds that should be spent on educating the kids rather than on letting their brains get risked to injury.”
Butler said he will bring the proposal to a vote next fall and needs a four-vote majority from the seven-member school board for the process to move forward.
Butler’s proposal does not have the support of Jared Volk, a junior offensive lineman for the Northern Illinois University Huskies football team, who said banning football is unnecessary.
“I don’t think football is very dangerous at all because of how much protective padding we have on our bodies while we’re playing,” Volk said. “I’d say it’s a lot more safe than other sports.”
Roberts said there is no evidence suggesting that helmets reduce the risk of concussion. Despite the amount of padding football players wear, the sport has the highest concussion rate among contact sports, according to the position statement.
Doug Sachtleban, a sophomore strong safety for the Robert Morris University Eagles football team, said the decision to play football should remain between the players and their parents, and that the game has many benefits.
“There’s a sense of camaraderie that you get from being with the team,” Sachtleban said. “You’ve got eyes on you all the time, and even when you don’t, then it’s up to you, so it kind of just builds good habits.”
Volk added that although college athletes do not get paid a salary, sports are worth the risk of injury because they reward in other ways, such as with scholarships and the joy of playing the game.
“They’re getting paid an education,” Volk said. “That’s something that can be more valuable than money at times.”
Other sports, like basketball, soccer and hockey, also account for the millions of annual concussions that occur, according to the
Simone Law, a sophomore basketball player for the Loyola University Ramblers, said she suffered one concussion in each of her first two collegiate seasons, but she is not bothered by the injuries.
“I know in anything you can get hurt, but I just love the game,” Law said. “I try to stay cautious, but I know basketball’s a physical sport, so that’s just a risk that comes with it.”
Law said her first concussion resulted from a head-on collision with her teammate. She said the second injury occurred when she went up for a rebound, was undercut and landed headfirst on the court.
Law said she returned from both injuries without fear of re-injury.
“I was eager to play,” Law said. “The experiences that you have—the friends and memories that you make while you play these sports—these are four years of your life that you won’t get back, so do the best that you can [to] make the most of your experience.”