The Pediatric Society of US and Canada recommend that children avoid contact sports altogether— the risks of head trauma even mild head injuries, are too great (Purcell, 2014) . As more and more research comes to light, it would be irresponsible for the medical community NOT to create such a warning.
Concussions are a hot topic in the medical sports community with the increasing incidents of youth concussions in conjunction with emerging research on head injuries that highlight the detrimental effects of head trauma to young athletes, even mild head injuries not classified as concussions. Thankfully the topic is moving beyond the medical community and into mainstream media. Last week The New York Times published an op-ed titled “Don’t Let Kids Play Football” by chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, CA (Omalu, 2015). The concussion-risk news will alarm some parents and cause skepticism in others. Yet the evidence is mounting against kids playing contact sports.
A recently published book “Sports-related Concussions in Youth” revealed some (alarming) facts:
…concussion rates are more frequent among high school athletes than college athletes in some sports —including football, men’s lacrosse and soccer, and baseball; higher for competition than practice (except for cheerleading); and highest in football, ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer, and women’s basketball. Concussion rates also appear higher for youths with a history of prior concussions and among female athletes. (Graham et al. 2014)
The pressure is on for schools and leagues to respond. More so when there’s class action lawsuits, as there is with a group of parents against U.S. Soccer and four other soccer associations for their mishandling of concussions and head trauma. It’s no coincidence that US youth soccer federation is launching a ‘Player Safety Campaign’ and also published a statement outlining new rules that soccer players aged 10 and younger should be prohibited from heading the ball, and players 11 through 13 should only be allowed to do so during practice (U.S. Soccer, 2015).
Detrimental effects of concussions were first thought to be exclusive to NFL football players, yet the medical community has brought concussion risks and a related progressive brain disease that shows up later in life CTE to the attention of youth sports community due to the overwhelming evidence of risks. It’s creating a culture change in sports that we can see by campaigns to educate athletes, coaches, physicians, and parents of young athletes about concussion recognition and management (Graham, 2014).
Parallels to the Surgeon General’s Warning
I see parallels between the recent concussion warnings and the ‘smoking is bad for your health’ phenomenon that began in the late 1950’s. The Surgeon General made a statement in 1957 announcing its official position on smoking; smoking is harmful to your health—overwhelming evidence pointed to a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. But the majority of the public didn’t buy in. A Gallup Survey from 1958 found that only 44 percent of Americans believed smoking caused cancer. Over time though as more information became available, public opinion did change. By 1968 over 78 percent of the public believed that smoking was a health hazard; it became common knowledge that smoking damaged health for the smoker and carried risks for those exposed to second-hand smoke.
Will parents stop putting their kids in contact sports? Will leagues be forced to change rules, limit participation? Likely, it will take time before we see significant change. Doing so represents a change in culture. One where sports leagues, associations, sports companies and clubs have much at stake. Yet as awareness expands and sources of information go beyond the medial community change is inevitable.
Another example similar to the the New York Times article where concussion awareness moves into mainstream media, is with a new movie,” Concussion” starring Will Smith opening on Christmas Day. The movie is about a forensic pathologist, played by Will Smith, who discovers neurological deterioration in the brain of a NFL player that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Preliminary reviews of the movie aren’t great, but it’s still a significant step forward in highlighting the issue and influencing change.
It took ten years for the public to believe that smoking was harmful to health, let’s hope it will take far less time for parents and the public to accept that the risk of head injuries is a health hazard for real.
- Gavett, B. E., Stern, R. A., & McKee, A. C. (2012, January). Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: A Potential Late Effect of Sport-Related Concussive and Subconcussive Head Trauma. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995699/#R12
- Graham, R., Rivara, F. P., Ford, M. A., & Spicer, C. M. (n.d.). Sports-related concussions in youth: Improving the science, changing the culture. doi:10.17226/18377
Omalu, B. (2015, December 06). Don’t Let Kids Play Football. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/07/opinion/dont-let-kids-play-football.html?smid=pl-share&_r=1
- Purcell, L. (2014, March 03). Sports-related concussion: Evaluation and management (Position Statement The Canadian Paediatric Society). Retrieved http://www.cps.ca/documents/position/sport-related-concussion-evaluation-management
- The Reports of the Surgeon General. The 1964 report on smoking and health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/NN/p-nid/60
- U.S. Soccer Provides Additional Information About Upcoming Player Safety Campaign. (2015, November 09). Retrieved from http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2015/11/09/22/57/151109-ussoccer-provides-additional-information-about-upcoming-player-safety-campaign