opinion | Concussion is a bigger problem for youth football than the NFL


The fuss over whether Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa He must have been cleared of play after a head injury that prompted the NFL to do so Strengthening the concussion protocol. This is a good move, but one that cannot be expected to effectively reduce the lifelong consequences of head trauma in football. To do so requires protecting athletes long before any of them make it into the NFL — while they’re still playing youth and high school football.

A concussion is a serious injury that can lead to memory loss, inability to concentrate, and depression. Repetitive head injuries can cause a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Gradual deterioration in cognitive function leading to dementia and early death. CTE is also associated with poor impulse control, aggression, suicidal thoughts and other debilitating symptoms.

The evidence is strong. in 2017 studyAll but one of the 111 deceased NFL players who donated their brains for research had evidence of CTE. Among the former college players, 48 ​​of the 53 showed the scores, as did three of the 14 who played in high school only.

Robert CantoA neurosurgeon who was among the authors of that study and who has advised both amateur and professional sports leagues, told me that the likelihood of a player developing CTE is determined not by the number of concussions he suffered but by the total number of hits to the head and the cumulative years of playing volleyball. foot.

“The risk of developing CTE starts after five years of playing football,” he said. “After 14 years, there is a tenfold risk. Eleven years seem to be the tipping point for entering the most vulnerable group.”

Kanto is among the advocates of not tackling football until high school. During a child’s early years, the brain is developing and is more vulnerable to trauma. Delaying contact football shortens the time children are hit in the head and reduces their lifetime risk of developing CTE.

Chris Nowinsky, CEO of the nonprofit Concussion Legacy Foundation, agrees. His organization recently started a campaign called “Stop hitting kids in the head“Which aims to reduce repetitive head impacts by increasing the age at which children begin to deal with soccer and other high-risk activities such as headers in soccer, scoring in hockey and dealing with rugby.”

“Most of these kids would never play in the pros,” Nowinsky said. “Why do we want to harm their future?”

For those children of high school age and above, soccer can be made safer by reducing interference during training. I was surprised to learn that the NFL has actually adopted this strategy, when most college and high school teams have not. Thanks in part to advocating their players union, the NFL has rules for it It is forbidden to interfere in the off-season And just let 14 Complete Communication Practices during the regular season.

Only between college football conferences Ivy League Intervention canceled out regular season practices. In youth football, which Nowinsky calls the “Wild West,” there is no national regulatory body to enforce player safety rules.

Movements are afoot to change this culture. Train like a pro It is a mobile clinic that shows high school coaches how NFL players reduce injuries in practice by avoiding direct hits to each other. Founder Terry O’Neill, a veteran sports producer, tells me coaches are usually skeptical until they’ve seen video after video of NFL teams.

“Players go full speed to the point of imminent contact, at which point they slow down, stop or swerve to avoid direct hits,” he explained. Players still practice intervening, but on dummies and not each other.

This makes a big difference. Nearly 60 percent From concussions in high school football and More than 70 percent Concussions in college football occur during training. In the NFL, that number is 19 percent — and it’s down to about 6 percent during the regular season.

Resulted from O’Neill’s invitation Many sports management bodies in public secondary schools Restrict the amount of time they can interact with teammates during training. The schools saw great successes after that. Ramapo High School In New Jersey he won the state title. American Heritage School She won four Florida State Championships in six years.

“The NFL is our model,” he said. “If the pros can train more safely, high school teams can do so too.”

Keep in mind that more than two million children play youths And the High school football Compared to about 2,000 active NFL players. Yes, the NFL can become safer, too, but the way to reduce the lifelong effects of head trauma is to start early.

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