David Adam

Stories about concussions scaring parents from letting kids play football

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 9, 2017 10:00 am

Parents who don't want their children to play football don't have to look for long to find arguments they believe support their decision.

Concussions, head trauma and CTE -- a debilitating brain disease -- are the buzz words that seem to make parents shudder when their sons come to them asking to play.

However, Dr. James Daniels, a professor of clinical family and community medicine at the SIU Center for Family Medicine in Quincy, advises moms and dads to avoid making uninformed decisions when it comes to playing sports.

"It's your family, and it's your life, and I could see why you might not want them to play football," he said. "But they need to do some type of activity, and there's a whole bunch of judgments and choices. What we have to be careful about is that the loudest person in the room often tells people what to do."

A recent study by researchers from Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center concluded that playing tackle football before age 12 "may have long-term neurobehavioral consequences." The study surveyed 214 former football players and found that participation in football before age 12 "corresponded with worse behavioral regulation, depression, apathy and executive function, as well as increased odds for clinical depression and apathy."

However, 68 participants were former professional athletes, and 103 who played in college, meaning nearly 80 percent of the participants played football for several years more than the average athlete.

Parents hearing about the long-term issues facing professional athletes might be better served to learn more about the athletes who get concussions but don't play professionally.

A recent story on the Huffington Post website quoted three female doctors who specialize in working with concussions. They all agreed, in general, that too many media stories focus on professional athletes, CTE and poor outcomes of prolonged concussion or repetitive head trauma.

Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth with North Shore University Health System's Sports Concussion Program told the Huffington Post that she has seen a number of youth patients (athletes and non-athletes) who have sustained a concussion and believe they now have or are going to develop CTE.

"On too many occasions, I have had young people crying in my office that they were going to ‘die of CTE,' even after just one concussion," she said.

Dr. Rosemarie Scolaro Moser with the Concussion Center of New Jersey saw much of the same concern when talking with young athletes.

"This worry has become irrational to the point that they are afraid to engage in normal activities for fear of further brain damage, even when it is clear to us that they have recovered," she told the Huffington Post. "It's as if they have equated the diagnosis of concussion with doom and a sentence of irrevocable brain damage."

Quincy Notre Dame football coach Bill Connell believes the abundance of concerns about concussions have hurt the sport.

"All the medical stories, whether it's head trauma in general or about football and contact sports, have hurt football in this area," he said. "Numbers are down everywhere. The more medical stories that come out, the more scared it's making parents."

Connell says the equipment that he wore when he played at Culver-Stockton College in the mid-1980s is "night and day" different than what his players use at QND.

"When I played, if you hit someone, you might forget who you were for a couple of minutes," he said. "Today, you have bladders (inside the helmets) blowing up the top, blowing up the sides, blowing up the fronts.

"As coaches, we're telling kids not to use their heads and to run through the tackle. Use your shoulder pads. We're doing everything we can to protect kids, and I think every coach in the nation is trying to teach kids the right way to tackle."

Connell said he believes it's unnecessary for kids to start playing tackle football until the fifth grade, and he wishes the NFL players would adhere to some of the tackling practices being taught at lower levels. He also believes football gets a bad rap when it comes to the number of concussions suffered.

"We've had more concussions within our female sports (at QND) than what we've had in our male sports," he said. "We also have had a golfer with a concussion."

Daniels says an athlete is always at risk when competing.

"Watch kids play baseball. Someone throwing a missile at them right by their head and face," he said. "Watch kids play soccer and see all the collisions with other players and the ball."

The tools to diagnose head trauma are improving. The attention given to the problem has created guidelines that force players to rest longer before they are allowed to play again.

So what is a parent to do? There is no easy solution, Daniels said.

"The biggest problem facing children today is obesity," he said. "Your child needs some kind of exercise for about five hours a week. Sports teaches you you're not No. 1 and that you have to work together. It teaches you a lot about life.

"When we were kids, you came home from school, and you went out and played until Mom and Dad told you it was time to come in and eat. That's changed now. Most young people don't have this free play. Most activity they have is organized, and if you cut out those organized sports, then what are you going to do?"

Daniels recommends parents and children talking about the issue and making a decision together.

"People just need to calm down," he said. "It's good that these studies are coming out because it's helping make people aware. I can give them the information I know, but research is not totally complete.

"There's no cookie cutter answer."