A while back, I posted a blog entitled “The Brady Bunch, Football, and Head Injuries” in which I discussed some of the risks that many very physical/contact sports, such as football, have on players. Neuroscientists and neuropsychologists are accumulating significant research indicating that these sports are causing what they term as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” or CTE. Basically, when the brain is rattled around in the skull by jarring hits, falls, or any sudden deceleration, it can undergo a minor injury. It was once believed that the brain is not really injured in the long-term by concussions…and CTEs were not even a consideration. There is now that a wealth of data to indicate that concussions, especially multiple concussions, can lead to a significant increase in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and memory impairments later in life. Alarmingly, scientists have found that the cumulative effect of even minor, repeated jarring of the brain (e.g., headers in soccer, football lineman slamming into one another down after down) can lead to significant cognitive impairments.
I began thinking of CTE again recently after reading articles in Time magazine (entitled “Headbanger Nation” by Jeffrey Kluger in the 1/31/11 issue, not available online at the time of this blog) as well as The New Yorker on the topic. A few disturbing stats gleaned from those articles:
- Over 4 million amateur athletes play organized football
- High school football players alone sustain 100,000 full blown, diagnosed concussions per year
- The average college football player sustains 950-1100 subconcussive (but potentially damaging by accumulation) blows per season
- Average g-force generated by college players in collisions is 23 g’s, but can go up to as high as 180 g’s (by comparison, astronauts at liftoff experience about 4 g’s)
- Because the brain slams into the skull due to rapid deceleration, football helmets cannot prevent this from happening. The very nature of the game puts the brain at risk – unless blocking, tackling, and “hits” are completely eliminated from football! Flag football, anyone?
- Females are more susceptible to concussions than males – possibly because of weaker neck muscles or hormones
I still love football, but I have to admit that I’m experiencing increasing amounts of cognitive dissonance about it. As a psychologist and a father of two boys, I am concerned that about some of the long-term effects of this sport on players. So, do I stop taking my sons to see the Longhorns play and eventually stop watching football altogether…even on TV? I’m not sure what to do at this point…I’m going to have to think about this one. In the meantime, I’ll be steering my boys toward tennis!