Youth Football is a Dangerous Sport

By Sara Tewksbury and Lindsay Andarakis

The consequences of concussions can last up to 55 years as opposed to the previously thought several weeks, two new studies published on April 3rd by the Cognitive Neuroscience Society found.

This is one piece of information that Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), knew was missing from his research. His new focus is preventing injuries in youth football.

Omalu discovered this degenerative brain disease in 2002 while autopsying the bodies of NFL players. He was the keynote speaker at The Head Injury Awareness Celebrity Sports Forum in Hauppauge on Wednesday, March 30. The event was hosted by the Head Injury Association and raised awareness about the risks of concussions for youth as well as the NFL’s ongoing battle with CTE.

“The message is children under the age of 12 should not play football, they are in a growth period, their little bodies can’t take blows and hits,” Liz Giordano, the CEO of the Head Injury Association said.

Although CTE is a severe brain disease, Cliff Robbins, the program manager for education and research at the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said that every hit to the head, even the ones that might not set off an alarm, can still do damage to the brain.

But not everybody agrees that children should stop playing.

Benjamin Carey is a youth football coach in Northport and says that there have been changes to make the youth sport safer. There are programs like HEADS UP, he said, that aim to promote player safety in football created by USA Football along with supporters such as the CDC.

Carey also has a six-year-old and nine-year-old who play youth football. “If I thought it was something to be concerned about, I wouldn’t have my boys playing, as much as I love the sport, my boys are my babies and I love them,” Carey said.

After extensive research, Boston University along with researches from the Department of Veterans affairs released that they had positively identified CTE in 96% of the NFL players and 79% of football players whose autopsy was examined in September 2015.

The damage that ends up as CTE later in life starts at a young age and is most harmful from ages nine to 11 because children’s brains are still developing. According to the new study released by the CNS, they are risking over 50 years’ worth of cognitive impairment from these injuries.

“Concussion protocols have evolved over the years through education and research,” Athletic Trainer at Westhampton Beach UFSD Scott Leogrande said. “We are now ImPACT baseline testing athletes before their season to monitor and ensure a safe return to sports if they were to suffer a concussion,”

One of the biggest issues is that the NFL players were not accurately informed about the risks of the game, Giordano from the Head Injury Association said.

“You can look at these professional players and say ya know what they made millions of dollars, they signed up, well they knew they were going to get beat on and they knew they were going to break bones, but they didn’t know they had to die for football,” Giordano said.

As more data comes out, Giordano hopes that families and players can make better informed decisions about football and other contact sports.

“This whole fun game among kids is now taking a turn with knowledge, where parents have to think twice about letting their kids play football,” Giordano said.