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Living in the Texas Hill Country and working in San Antonio, I see, up close, the “religion” of football. Early on, I said my son would never play football and then found myself transformed into a crazed parent, watching practice and screaming with the 15,000 fans who pack a typical game. I sheepishly admit that my only appointment television show cheap packers jerseys is “Friday Night Lights,” justifying it as an intelligent show with a mature story line.But, what is the risk of this family oriented, team and character building experience? I tell my son that every time I see my six year old grandson with another bump on his head that we are changing the list of colleges that he may be able to attend. We have to ask, what is the risk of letting our children participate in contact sports and what can be done to protect them?In the last year, there has been great interest in protecting NFL players from brain injury and its long term consequence, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is the result of multiple traumatic brain hits or concussions. It has been estimated that a college lineman experiences over 1,000 subconcussive head hits in an average season. Most people are unaware that a lineman in the three point stance is the most vulnerable of all the players to a brain injury. CTE leads to early dementia, depression and personality changes. ESPN, the Wall Street Journal and others have recently reported the findings of Dr. Ann McKee at Boston University. She found abnormal proteins in the spinal cords of three football players with ALS ( Lou Gehrig Disease) and repeated head injuries. The NFL has given Boston University one million dollars to study the problem. But, what about our children? Although the population of NFL players is important, there are only 1,900 active NFL players each season. There are more than 3 million children playing football at the youth level and 1.2 million more playing high school football. This doesn’t even begin to count the number of kids playing soccer (heading the ball) and hockey (body checking). We have to ask whether we are taking adequate steps to protect our children to change not just the equipment but the rules so that we reduce the chances of the players experiencing traumatic brain injuries. It took data and deaths to force Congress and the NFL to act. What will it take to shift the warrior culture and parental mania of youth sports? Will the death of an 18 year old high school football player who already showed signs of CTE be enough? The answers are coming in and “sports” enthusiasts may not like the answers, but parents had best pay attention and become advocates for their children.
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A 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the injury rate in youth hockey (11 12 year olds) in Canadian leagues that allowed body checking and those that did not. Body checking was associated with 45 81 percent of the injuries and concussions were the most common injury. When body checking is allowed, there is a three fold increase in all game related injuries and concussions. As would be expected, the younger brain is immature and more susceptible to injury. Lighter and smaller players were also more likely to be injured. I can hear the father yelling at his fallen son, “Come on buddy, shake it off.”If Teddy Roosevelt was able to change the rules in college football and reduce the