I have a 7-year-old son who loves to play football.
But flag football, backyard and playground games are going to have to do for a while, because it’s going to be years, if ever, before we let him strap on a helmet and play full-contact.
I wouldn’t have said this two years ago, when he was 5 and showing a talent for throwing, catching and running beyond his years. At that point, I thought it would be impossible to keep him off the Pop Warner football fields just as soon as he was eligible. But then again, two years ago, concussions were still more of a back-burner concern to me. As the rest of the country has increasingly focused attention on the dangers of concussions to athletes young and old, it has moved to the front burner for me as well.
I think 2013 has been a year of awakening for Americans when it comes to sports-related concussions, and football has had to bear the brunt of concerns.
You had the big $765 million settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players for concussion damage, and revelations from former NFL superstars Brett Favre, Jim McMahon and Tony Dorsett about how they are suffering memory lapses they attribute to multiple concussions sustained on the gridiron.
Pop Warner, the nation’s largest youth football program, saw participation drop 9.5 percent between 2010-2012, and I’d expect it to drop again in 2013, given all the parents I’ve heard saying that, given what they know now, they will not allow their children under 14 to play tackle. Pop Warner’s own chief medical officer, Dr. Julian Bailes, cited concerns about head injuries as “the No. 1 cause” of the decline in participation.
The NFL no doubt has a problem in concussions that it needs to continue to address via rule changes, safer equipment, and better education in regard to hitting/tackling techniques and post-concussion protocol. But it is in youth and even high school football where I believe the biggest danger continues to lie.
While Pop Warner significantly cut back on the amount of tackling permitted during practice back in 2012, and this year launched a partnership with the NFL to endorse “Heads Up” football designed to teach proper tackling techniques and minimize head contact, the fact remains that young people’s brains are much more susceptible to permanent damage from the shock associated with mild traumatic brain injury than adults’ and take longer to recover from a concussion.
Many states now require youth and high school coaches be trained in the prevention and recognition of sports-related concussions, and the American Academy of Neurology recently updated its guidelines for coaches and medical professionals to help them properly evaluate potential concussions. These are positive steps, but you still have the problem of many kids who sustain possible concussions not admitting to concussion symptoms because they don’t want to miss significant time during the season.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that concussions in sports alone occur in as many as 3.8 million people per year, and when you factor in non-sports-related concussions, the amount of Americans sustaining concussions each year easily tops 5 million.
While the potential long-term damage that a concussion or multiple concussions can cause to a child’s still-developing brain is concerning, so too is the financial toll that treatment can take on a family’s finances. This is where you can help by making employers and employees you work with aware of voluntary accident insurance as part of an employee benefits package.