Is Your Favorite Football Player a Candidate for CTE?

It’s been 12 years since the first stories about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease better known as CTE, reached the national media. Since then, the news about football’s health risks are becoming known among the sport’s youngest players.  And some parents are beginning to wonder whether they want their kids to play a sport that they themselves grew up loving. But it’s hard to ignore the facts about CTE.  Athletes who began playing tackle football before age 12 experience more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after they turned 12, according to a new study released in September 2017. The results from this long-term study, conducted by researchers at Boston University’s School of Medicine (BUSM), are certainly adding to the growing debate among parents as to if and when they might let their kids play tackle football. The study’s conclusions are based on a sample of 214 former players, the average age being 51. Of those, 43 played through high school, 103 played through college and the remaining 68 played in the NFL.  Phone interviews, coupled with online surveys of the participants, revealed that players in all three groups began playing youth football before the age of 12. Among that general sub-group, virtually all displayed higher-than-normal risks of problems with “behavioral regulation, apathy and executive function” and triple the risk of “clinically elevated depression scores.” The new study clarifies previous research from the BU CTE Center that examined former NFL players. Even in those studies, the former players who started tackle football prior to age 12 had worse memory and mental flexibility. They also had more serious structural brain changes on their MRI scans than former NFL players who began playing at age 12 or older. And in 2016, doctors at the Wake Forest School of Medicine used advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to determine that boys between the ages of 8 and 13 who played just one season of tackle football clearly showed diminished function in parts of their brains. In the face of heightened research since the deaths of several ex-NFL players, the successful class action lawsuit against the league by former players, and Will Smith’s portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu in the award winning movie “Concussion,” a growing number of scientists argue that because the human brain develops rapidly at young ages, especially between 10 and 12, children should not play tackle football until their teenage years. Parents are now being forced to listen. In some communities like Chicago and Detroit, in the past several years, the number of youth (under 12) football teams has shrunk by as much as 50-75 percent, especially in the suburbs. Pop Warner Pee Wee football is facing a class-action lawsuit by two sets of parents alleging that the recent deaths of their young adult sons was a direct result of the league’s ignoring the life-threatening risks of head trauma. USA Football, the sport’s governing body, is beginning to emphasize 7-on-7 football teams that eliminate most line positions and all players starting in a two-point stance, which reduces helmet-to-helmet hits.  Another group – Practice Like the Pros – advocates that only flag football be played through the sixth grade and that a modified game limiting helmet-to-helmet contact be played in 7th and 8th grades. “The curiosity about head injuries and the correct age to play full contact is peaking,” according to Terry O’Neil, Practice Like the Pros’ founder. “And tackling is the culprit.” If you have suffered an injury and want to explore your legal options, call Billy Johnson. Contact us today at 606-437-4488, or fill out this online form to learn how we can help you. Your consultation is free, and we earn no fee unless we win your case.

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