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So, Whaddya Think . . . . . . . . Should We Let Children Play Tackle Football?

So, Whaddya Think?

 Should We Let Children Play Tackle Football?

by

David Figurski and Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian pathologist who discovered the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) by his study of the brain of Hall-of-Fame center Mike Webster, is making news again with an Op-Ed published in The New York Times. Dr. Omalu’s essay is entitled Don’t Let Kids Play Football. He says that our society has laws forbidding the sale of tobacco and alcohol to minors. There is legislation that mandates bicycle helmets for children. Football Player HurtWhy not protect children’s brains by prohibiting children from playing American-style tackle football? Dr. Omalu writes in his essay, “The risk of permanent impairment is heightened by the fact that the brain, unlike most other organs, does not have the capacity to cure itself ….”

Omalu & Will Smith

(Dr. Omalu’s CTE-discovery story and its impact on American football is told in the much-anticipated movie, Concussion, which will be in theaters on Christmas Day. Dr. Omalu is played by actor Will Smith. As grippingly shown in the Frontline documentary, League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, which is online and free, the National Football League – NFL – immediately attacked Dr. Omalu and tried to get him to retract the published paper.)league-of-denial-raster-br10-81-550x377

There is strong evidence that not only concussions, but also the large number of sub-concussive hits common to players of American football can lead to CTE, whose symptoms may appear as early as in the late teens. The symptoms of CTE include memory loss, reduced intelligence, depression, aggressive behavior, dementia, and suicidal thoughts. Both a college football player and a young professional player committed suicide, and they were found to have CTE. A high-school football player committed suicide. CTE has also been detected in the brains of players of high-school football.

NFLlogoThe NFL is concerned with the growing awareness of brain injuries in players of American football. If players, their families, fans, coaches, and/or parents think that CTE is common among players, a seemingly sacrosanct part of American culture and a multibillion-dollar industry would be put into jeopardy.

To get in front of the concussion issue, the NFL has aggressively promoted its image as a forward-thinking and safety-conscious league. The NFL has donated large sums of money for concussion research. The league has changed the rules of the game to discourage a player from using his helmet to make tackle or to prevent a tackle. It has established a “concussion protocol” to keep a concussed player from practice and/or games until he has been approved to return to play. The NFL has concussion-spotters present at every game and this year has empowered them to stop a game. (However, that protocol failed shamefully and dramatically in the recent instance of quarterback Case Keenum near the end of a tie game.) The rule changes are good progress, but can the NFL actually prevent brain injuries and save the game?

Current and former players have been affected by the brain-injury issue. Some players have had to retire early and fear imminent brain disease. A rookie linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers quit after one year of a four-year contract. (He is returning the signing bonus for the remaining three years.) He said that playing professional football, with all its potential for wealth, is not worth the risk of brain injury. football-brain-injuryLegendary former quarterback Joe Namath has said that, if he knew then what he knows now, he wouldn’t have played. Keith McCants, former NFL linebacker said, “We were paid to give concussions. If we knew that we were killing people, I would have never put on the jersey.”

The brains of several former players, including Hall-of-Fame linebacker

junior-seau-1024x682

Junior Seau

Junior Seau and four-time-Pro-Bowl safety Dave Duerson – both of whom committed suicide, were found to have CTE.

duerson

Dave Duerson

Boston University’s CTE Center has found CTE in 88 of 92 (1, 2) autopsied brains of former NFL players. (Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University says that this is a ridiculously high rate even for a sample of brains in which the individuals showed some signs of brain disease. DOF has written about a simple fix for the claim of bias. In the meantime, there was a report that was consistent with Dr. McKee’s fear that CTE is common among football players. Frank Gifford, Hall-of-Fame running back, apparently died of natural causes, but his brain showed CTE.)

Frank Gifford football

Frank Gifford

Should children play American football with all that is known? Obviously there is much more to be learned, but should society wait to protect the children? Children trust their parents and coaches. Dr. Omalu only wants society to protect the brains of young children until those children are able to understand the risks to the brain from playing Brain in football helmetfootball and to make their own decision of whether or not to play. Boston University’s Dr. Robert Cantu said that a child’s brain is developing until age 14. Should children be subjecting their developing brains to high impact hits? One study showed that sometimes the force of a young child’s hit can reach that of a college football player.

football player catching ball

One argument for safety in American football is that the equipment, especially the helmet, is much improved. The helmet does a very good job of protecting the skull, but does nothing to protect the brain. There is no helmet that can prevent a concussion.Concussions-sports-concussion-crisis

As you might imagine, Dr. Omalu’s position is highly unpopular. Danny Kanell, former NFL quarterback and now ESPN commentator, claims that Dr. Omalu is waging a “War on Football.” Many fans and parents agree with Kanell because they believe that CTE is not common among football players. (DOF has written how this issue can be resolved simply. Dr. Omalu is an author on a paper reporting the accurate detection of CTE in a living person using a special PET – positron emission tomography – scan. The NFL needs to have all of its players scanned.) If Dr. Omalu’s suggestion about not letting kids play tackle football were adopted, one effect would be immediately obvious. The NFL would see its pool of young players dry up, so the talent we now see in the NFL would no longer be seen.

Bennet Omalu

Dr. Bennet Omalu at screening of “Concussion”

It is unlikely that Dr. Omalu’s suggestion would ever come true. But he has the stature to get people talking, and the discussion has already changed. More people are becoming aware of the danger to the brain of playing tackle football. The NFL is concerned with the movie Concussion because it will increase society’s awareness of the danger. (In an article about an early showing of Concussion to former players and their families, the Huffington Post writes “… the wife of former tight end Taz Anderson, said the movie made her question whether her grandchild should continue to play the sport.”) Recently Bob Costas, a renowned sports commentator, said that American football is based on violence. The league has no way of fixing its problem with head trauma.

If you’ve ever seen young children playing tackle football, you will realize that society must do something to protect its children.

So, Whaddya Think?

Let’s get a dialogue going. Post your comments in the Comment Section. Directions are below.

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this Brain Injury (BI) world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 500 words. Send to Neelyf@aol.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

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So, Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . . Tackle Football League for Young Girls – REALLY, Utah! What Are You Thinking?

Outrageous: A Tackle Football League for Young Girls

by

David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4There is growing public concern, backed by scientific evidence, about the violence of football and the possibility of a life-altering brain injury, especially in children. Former professional players have spoken out about the risks inherent to the game of football. Evidence now exists that a concussion can be dangerous (1, 2), especially to the developing brain of a young player. Even the repetitive sub-concussive hits can be harmful. Legendary quarterback Joe Namath, who had a recent scare with his cognitive functioning, said that if he knew then what is known now, he wouldn’t have played. A talented rookie linebacker on the San Francisco 49ers has quit the game after one season, saying “…I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.”

Utah organizers are excited to establish the first tackle football league for girls. A video of a nine-year-old girl, Sam Gordon – now twelve, playing tackle football in a boys’ league confirms that she is talented and shows what many of us have always believed – that girls can be as skilled as boys. The Utah Girls Tackle Football League has teams of fifth- and sixth-grade girls. To enhance its visibility, the league advertises Sam Gordon as a marquee player.

This is dangerous and a step in the wrong direction. At a time when some adults are calling for the abolishment of children’s football leagues, Utah has established a tackle football league for girls. It’s one thing when players are old enough to understand the risks and decide to play, but it’s another thing when children trust that their parents will protect them. I’m sure that every parent who allows a child to play football is well-meaning, but those parents are likely to be unaware of the risks. We have a lot of work to do to spread awareness about football’s risk of brain injury.

There is no doubt that the games in this new league will be exciting. But, how many girls will have their lives dramatically changed by a brain injury?

So, Whaddya Think?

Let’s get a dialogue going. Post your comments in the Comment Section. Directions are below.

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this Brain Injury (BI) world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 500 words. Send to Neelyf@aol.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

As I say after each post:

Feel free to leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Please follow my blog. Click on “Follow Me Via eMail” on the right sidebar of your screen.anim0014-1_e0-1

If you like my blog, click the “Like” button under this post.

If you REALLY like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. That works for me too!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

So, Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . . Football, Brain Injury, and Steve Almond

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this TBI world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 1,000 words. Send to donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

Football, Brain Injury, and Steve Almond

 by

 David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4

The National Football League (NFL) starts its season today. I’ve written before about American football and the likelihood of a player getting a life-altering brain injury. Incontrovertible evidence is building that playing football is dangerous for the brain. The evidence is particularly dismaying when it comes to our youth.

I admit to liking the game. But as author Steve Almond points out, I am one of the many fans who are feeling “queasy” about enjoying a game that has so much baggage. I am certainly happy that none of my nephews who played football in high school thought about playing in college, even though each one excelled in the game. I also have a traumatic brain injury. I know what my brain injury has done to Donna’s and my life. I have also read the interviews and guest blogs. The amount of chaos and stress that visits not only the afflicted person, but also his or her family, is unimaginable.

Steve Almond, a former rabid fan, has been questioning the U.S. society’s love of football. He has written a bestselling book, Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. I think his essay, an article written about his ideas, and an audio are food for thought for us and completely appropriate for this category.

Disclaimer:
Any views and opinions of the author are purely his/her own.

As I say after each post:

Feel free to leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

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If you like my blog, click the “Like” button under this post.

If you REALLY like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. That works for me too!

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So, Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . Contact Sports Are Not Safe for Children

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this TBI world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 1,000 words. Send to donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4

Contact Sports Are Not Safe for Children

by

David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

In 4-6 weeks, American football players will be getting ready for the 2014-2015 season. Millions of people enjoy playing the sport – from the pros in the NFL to college and high school athletes to young children in Pop Warner leagues. Millions more enjoy watching the sport and participating in pools and fantasy leagues. There is no question that football is a major part of US culture.

I admit I enjoy watching the game, but do players and spectators really know the risk involved? As a TBI survivor and someone who has learned first-hand how a brain injury can dramatically change a person and affect his or her life, as well as significantly change the lives of loved ones, I have become acutely aware of the dark side of contact sports. This revelation has been reinforced by the interviews Donna has published on this blog.

Many of the news items posted here have to do with the risk of brain injury in contact sports. Donna and I also posted an opinion about the danger of some sports to children. In fact, one of the TBI survivor interviews was by a young girl whose brain was injured during a volleyball match. On Thursday, Donna and I watched the PBS Frontline report (available online) called “League of Denial” about the NFL and its policy on concussions. The next interview will be from a former defensive lineman of the San Francisco 49ers, who had to quit because of a brain injury. A recent documentary, “Gladiators: The Uncertain Future of American Football” (trailer here), depicts the brutality of football. On the other hand, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, has gotten behind the Zackary Lystedt Law, which is designed to protect young players with a concussion. The PBS and Lystedt videos show contrasting sides of the NFL. I recommend watching both.

Knowing what I know now has greatly diminished my enthusiasm for contact sports, especially football. I see a crisis growing, but awareness by the public is also increasing. It is important that we make at least players, parents, coaches, and educators fully aware of the risk to the developing brains of young people. A brain injury can affect someone’s entire life. No parent wants that for his or her child. We who know need to speak out.

As I say after each post:

Feel free to leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Please follow my blog. Click on “Follow Me Via eMail” on the right sidebar of your screen.anim0014-1_e0-1

If you like my blog, click the “Like” button under this post.

If you REALLY like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. That works for me too!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

So Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . Children’s Brains at Risk

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this TBI world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 1,000 words. Send to donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4Children’s Brains at Risk

 by
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
and
David Figurski

Parents, coaches, and other adults are inadvertently exposing many children to grave harm. There are two major reasons: (1) a lack of awareness of the fragility of the brain and (2) ignorance of the life-altering changes that come from a brain injury. As parents and children learn about the risks, some children have elected not to play certain sports (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: To Play or NOT to Play, May 23, 2014).

There are many very good reasons for young people to play sports, including raising self-esteem, being part of a team, learning responsibility, and understanding competitiveness. But, studies are showing that some sports have a real possibility of danger associated with them.

One of us (Donna) taught first and third grades and coached a soccer team of 6- to 8-year-olds. We know how trusting young people are of adults. No adult would willingly put a young child or teenager in danger, but most are ignorant of the potential consequences of a brain injury. Only now are we beginning to understand how easy it is to injure the brain and just how dire the result can be. There is a desperate need to speak out to educate other adults of what we know.

A great deal of research is going on, but our knowledge of the brain is just beginning. Our hope is that there will not only be better treatments and therapy, but also that steps can be taken to greatly lessen the possibility of brain injury in the first place.

The danger is very real. A 1999 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association examined mild TBIs in 10 high-school sports over 3 years. Over 1200 concussions were documented. Football, by far, was responsible for the highest percentage of concussions. The percentage of concussions caused by playing football was almost double the percentage of concussions from the remaining sports combined. A recent study showed that playing football, even without a concussion, may affect behavior and brain structure (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: Football – Is It Dangerous to Your Brain? May 23, 2014). Keep in mind that players often do not report symptoms for fear of not being allowed to continue to play (video). In addition, having another concussion without recovering from the first can be deadly.

Heading in soccer is the primary cause of concussions in that sport. The percentage of soccer-caused concussions ranks #3 in boys’ sports and #1 in girls’ sports. Changes are beginning to happen with the new knowledge. A Connecticut youth soccer league has made heading illegal.

Just how ignorant of brain injury is the medical profession has already become apparent in the interviews. It’s common for a brain-injured patient to be treated for all other wounds, but little thought is given to the brain. Only later is the brain injury recognized as the basis for some of the symptoms. We were taken by Tabbie’s statement (Survivors SPEAK OUT! Tabbie, May 25, 2014) that a doctor assured her that it was not possible to get a concussion from a volleyball. Meanwhile, 0.5% of concussions were found to occur from volleyball in the 1999 JAMA study. Although volleyball ranked 10th, it did register. Ask Tabbie if it’s possible to have a brain injury from volleyball.

For motivation, we recommend watching the documentary Head Games, which is available online. Here is the trailer and the description. No one wants to put children at risk. There is no doubt the consequences of brain injury can be severe (Video Part 1 and Video Part 2), but there needs to be more awareness of the danger and consequences.

What can be done? In the short term, (1) we can speak out to make more people aware of brain injury. (2) We can promote the re-examination of rules and, where safety is concerned, lobby for their change. A Connecticut soccer league is already doing this by banning heading in soccer. As another example, if a football player uses his helmet to “spear” another player, maybe he should be ejected from the game. (3) No one should tolerate a violent act to win. Who promoted the idea that it was acceptable for a player of the opposing team to take Tabbie out of the game? There is no place for winning-at-all-costs. In the long term, there needs to be better equipment for the safety of players. This will take research. Legislation of rule changes will cause everyone to be protected. Nebraska’s legislature has already made laws for youth sports.

Our youth look to us. Let’s not fail them.

As I say after each post:

Feel free to leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Please follow my blog. Click on “Follow Me Via eMail” on the right sidebar of your screen.anim0014-1_e0-1

If you like my blog, click the “Like” button under this post.

If you REALLY like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. That works for me too!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

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