A groundbreaking study published last week by the New York Times has reverberated through the sports world. “A neuropathologist has examined the brains of 111 NFL players – and 110 were found to have CTE, the degenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head,” the paper writes.
A few days later, National Public Radio reported that the NFL was ending a $30 million research partnership with the National Institutes of Health. Citing original reporting by ESPN, NPR said that after almost five years nearly half of the funds the league committed to the study of brain injuries remained unspent “following a bitter dispute in 2015 in which the NFL backed out of a major study that had been awarded to a researcher who had been critical of the League.”
It goes without saying that youth and high school sports are a far cry from the NFL, but with these two stories in the news it is worth revisiting the issue of youth sports and TBI for two reasons. First, anyone playing in the NFL only got there after years of youth, high school and college football. It has long been established that head injuries have a cumulative effect, so it is incumbent on all of us to ask what can be done to minimize these injuries long before young people get to the professional level. Second, and more importantly, whatever one may think of the NFL’s approach and attitude toward concussion issues, professional football players enter each game with the best equipment possible – including helmets built to standards far more exacting than anything a middle or high school student wears onto the field. That, in turn, requires us to look carefully at both the practices and the laws governing youth contact sports to see whether we are doing everything we can to prevent injuries to children.