“If you’re a parent of a child who wants to play football [soccer, ice hockey & other contact sports] and you avoid the movie “Concussion” the way the NFL wants you to avoid it, then you’re avoiding reality” — The Chicago Tribune
Kids that play contact sports are at risk for concussions and CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by hits, even mild blows, to the head. Which is why I suggest that all parents of athletes and kids over 12 years old who play contact sports—not just football but hockey, soccer, rugby, basketball or any other contact sport see the movie Concussion.
It’s based on the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, who discovered by studying deceased football players’ brains, that the brain is damaged by repetitive strikes to the head which leads to severe symptoms that can show up later in life. Symptoms that include headaches, memory loss, behaviour changes such as aggression, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. In younger people CTE begins with behavior and mood changes; in older people it begins with cognitive problems that progress and lead to dementia. Real life examples are Mike Webster, Pittsburg Steeler who died a tragic death at age 50 and Chicago Bears Dave Duerson who commit suicide in 2011. Both had CTE.
While concussion symptoms are immediate, CTE symptoms aren’t. CTE symptoms typically appear years after exposure to repetitive head trauma which makes it almost a hidden disease. Essentially the brain does not have the protection it needs to take repetitive, even mild blows to the head as experienced by heading a soccer ball, or through contact in football during tackling, or hockey during checking or collisions on the ice—all these incidents places our kids at risk. The movie does an excellent job of explaining what CTE is, how it happens and how Dr. Omalu was threatened and ‘strongly encouraged’ to suppress his findings by the NFL. Best described in the following 45-second clip below where Dr. Omalu’s (Will Smith) boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) explains why:
If you’re not yet convinced you should see the movie, below are five (really good) reasons:
1. Protect your Kids… by learning how head trauma can affect your child’s brain over time. There are several scenes in the movie where Will Smith explains what happens to the brain when there are repeated strikes to the head—Dr Omula shakes an egg inside a glass jar, mimicking how the brain moves around inside the skull. Given there’s no shock absorber in the skull, with repeated trauma it can lead to progressive degeneration of brain tissue, putting the athlete at risk for CTE.
2. Be informed…Know the risks so you can assess and make decisions about the kind of sports programs you want your kids to be part of.
3. Learn why the NFL, NCAA, FIFA and other sports associations are concerned about “Concussion”…For several reasons, mainly the culpability; there is a level of responsibility—blame that can be placed. Many failed to provide adequate warning and protection for players, whether through concealing the risks (NFL), or by not implementing adequate safety guidelines (NCAA). There are numerous class action lawsuits past and current: the NFL was ordered to pay $900 million to over 5000 retired players given they concealed the dangers of head trauma, NCAA for inadequate protective measures for athletes diagnosed with concussions, and in youth sports where a group of soccer parents brought a class action lawsuit against FIFA, U.S. Soccer and AYSO for failing to protect players with concussions. There will likely be more to come.
4. Educate your kids…Kids need to know the risks. If they are old enough, have them watch the movie, if they aren’t use an example of the egg in the jar to explain what happens to their brain. There are other resources parents can use to educate kids including this 5-minute YouTube video “Concussions 101, a Primer for Kids and Parents”. There’s also role models, for instance Chris Borland of San Fransisco 49ers and one of NFL’s top rookies, quit the NFL at age 24 because of concerns about long-term risk of head trauma.
5. It’s a damn good movie.
When I watched Concussion it stirred an array of emotions—sadness, disgust, empathy, and hope. Hope, because at the end of the movie there’s a sense of triumph knowing that Dr. Omalu succeeded in raising awareness about the risks and effects of head trauma, not just among the medical community but to one of the most powerful and influential sports entities in North America—the NFL. Parents—you gotta see the movie and bring your (12+ age) kids.
To Learn More:
- Symptoms: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), The Mayo Clinic
- Check out the conversation on Twitter by following the hashtag #ConcussionMovie
- ‘Concussion’ The review, MMQB
- YouTube video, “Concussions 101, a Primer for Kids and Parents”
- ‘Concussion’ Forces Football Players to Contemplate Safety Risks, NPR
- Recommended Book: League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis