Football is Hard on the Brain

I read an article in the New York Times today (which is a shocker in itself because I pretty much loathe the New York times) about the possible correlation between football and brain damage.

The article cites a young college man who committed suicide and when the parents gave permission for examiners to autopsy his brain, they “discovered early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to depression and impulse control primarily among N.F.L. players, two of whom also committed suicide in the last 10 years.”

Even though the doctors are being careful to say that though the young man had this brain disease and played football, it’s not necessarily the reason he hung himself.

BUT, they are noticing this same disorder in other football players that have committed suicide over the years.

Thomas never had a diagnosis of a concussion on or off the football field or even complained of a headache, his parents said, although they acknowledged he was the kind of player who might have ignored the symptoms to stay on the field. Because of this, several doctors said, his C.T.E. — whose only known cause is repetitive brain trauma — must have developed from concussions he dismissed or from the thousands of subconcussive collisions he withstood in his dozen years of football, most of them while his brain was developing.

The idea that C.T.E. can stem from hits below the level of concussion — which are endemic to football and all but impossible for doctors to see or manage — is relatively new.

They now wonder if years of being pummeled to death all in the name of playing a good game might have something to do with this CTE.

And at the risk of sounding insensitive – duh.

I have never understood the appeal. I can’t imagine why anyone would knowingly put themselves in a situation where they will routinely be beat up – sometimes severely and often times to the point where they are actually injured. I don’t see how butting heads, quite literally, play after play, game after game, and year after year, (starting as early as Mighty Mites) could possibly do anything BUT injure someone’s brain.

It all seems like pointless torture, in my opinion. And for what, exactly, a game?!?

Now granted, our boys are anything BUT athletic. In fact, they will be the first to tell you that they hate sports. All sports, all the time. They just aren’t interested. So, I’ve never had to worry about them getting hurt in that arena. (So to speak). But even if they HAD expressed an interest in sports, football specifically (because even though an individual can get hurt in any sport, hell, one can get injured just crossing the street sometimes, that person is less likely to get hurt than willingly participating in a contact sport like football where the whole objective is to tackle, and knock each other down as fast and as hard as one can possibly achieve), I am pretty sure we would have vetoed that idea.

Actually, there’s not pretty sure, we would have said, “no way in hell.”

I was directed to this article in the New York Times through a blog. This woman was talking about how she’s nervous for her son, who eats, sleeps and lives for football and how even though she’s scared something like this might happen to her son, she can’t live her life in fear of it happening.

And I agree with her – you can’t live your life in fear and that should never stop you from living your life in a responsible and safe way. But I have to disagree with her willingness to sacrifice her son to repeated abuse on the football field. Even though her son will likely not develop CTE, or mess his brain up to the point where he takes his own life (God forbid), how does she know that his repeated abuse on the field isn’t taking SOME sort of toll on his brain and possibly causing long-term issues?

Accidents happen, of course. But this goes beyond accidents – this is willingly, and knowingly, placing a child in a dangerous situation, not once, but every day, week, year of his young life.

Again, I ask … why? All for the sake of a game? I just don’t understand why anyone would risk a life-altering illness, or injury all for the sake of those few minutes in the end zone?

Please understand, I’m not criticizing this woman’s decision, or any parents’ decision to allow their sons to play football, not at all, they have the freedom to make those choices, and if the kids are willing and love it, then by all means, go for it.

I just wonder how many parents truly think about the possible repercussions – to me, the odds of my sons permanently damaging themselves are just too high for me, I’m not willing to play that particular game of Russian Roulette.

We all went to a football game this past Friday night at my sons’ high school – Jazz was playing in the band at half time, which is the only reason we were there to begin with. I like to watch football, and I like the sport, overall, though I’m now seriously reconsidering my opinions on the sport after reading this article and thinking how the sport impacts these young men as individuals, and two of our players got injured. The crowd got deathly quiet as we awaited word on the boys’ conditions.

The first time it happened, I watched one of the coaches talk to the mother, explaining the situation to her. From what I can gather, he broke his arm. He was taken off the field in the golf cart.

The second time, the boy was able to get up on his own, but walked with a noticeable limp. I believe he sat out for a few plays, but ended up back in the game. His father was sitting right in front of me and he didn’t move a muscle when his son was lying on the field. He didn’t move when he was escorted off the field, and still didn’t move to find out what was happening when they were looking at him on the side lines.

I simply don’t understand how any parent could simply sit there and not at least go down to see how his child was doing. I mean, I get the whole, “we’re in high school and OMG, parents are so dumb and uncool and don’t talk to me,” stigma – I have two teenage boys myself, remember? But when the child has been injured, all bets are off.

Even though the boys were physically injured, after reading this article, I wonder how many boys went home after that game with a headache, or feeling woozy, or just not feeling “right” overall. I’ve seen several kids weave off the field and act disoriented and again I have to ask, how could they NOT be disoriented after being treated like a punching bag for an hour?

I guess the point of this post is to raise awareness of the dangers of participating in football. I mean, it seems the “cool” thing to brag about, “my kid is in such-and-such sport” but at what cost? Both short term and long term?

I can’t tell you the number of weird looks I’ve received over the years whenever I’ve talked to parents and they ask, “what sport does your son play” and my answer has been, “none. He’s a geek and we’re cool with that.” It annoys me that they assume that our sons are in something because it seems the “norm” for them to play something.

Though I wish they had gotten involved in some team … activity, these things really are a great tool to teach our children the importance of working together as a team and sportsmanship, I have to be honest, I’m really glad they never got involved in anything that could potentially rattle their brains.

The Thomas case will almost certainly prove more arresting to those assessing the long-term risks of football at all levels, as he had developed the disease before leaving college and, for reasons that remain unknown, developed severe depression and killed himself.

“It’s pretty hard to make a jump with one case,” said Dr. James Moriarity, the University of Notre Dame’s head physician, who oversees the athletic department’s medical care. “But if it’s true that that happened, it would kill the sport,” he said, referring to an amateur player getting C.T.E. “As a parent, it’s going to be hard to justify kids going out and doing that.”

Maybe we need to seriously reassess this sport for what it is – downright dangerous.