Investigators Question America’s Football Crisis

People now see football and brain injury as a definite cause-and-effect.  Parents are much more hesitant to allow their school-aged children join the school football team.  In January, for example, laws related to youth football were proposed in Illinois and New York, both named after former NFL players who suffered the effects of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).  In Illinois, HB4341 was named after Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bears player who committed suicide in 2011 and whose autopsy showed that he had a brain injury.  Officially known as the CTE Prevention Act (HB4341), the last action on the Duerson Act was on April 27, 2018 when it was referred the Rules Committee.  In New York, A1269A is named after former Baltimore Colts tight-end John Mackey, who showed signs of brain injury prior to his death at age 69.  The John MacKey Youth Football Protection Act is also still in Committee in the State Assembly.  (Notably, the MacKey Act only prevents children 11 years and younger from playing tackle football, not 12 or 13 years as other proposed laws restrict.)

In Maryland, a bill was introduced by Delegate Terri Hill, and failed, that would have changed the rules for youth soccer, lacrosse, hockey and [tackle] football.  (“I really did not expect it to pass, but I think it’s a conversation we have to have and I don’t think the conversation is over,” Hill said.)  In New Jersey, A3760 was introduced by Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle on April 5, 2018 to prohibit children under the age of 12 from participating in tackle football.  After its introduction, it was referred to the Assembly Women and Children Committee, where it sits now.  Last week, AB-2108 failed in the California Assembly, “but before the outrage and the mudslinging and the ‘Save Youth Football’ rallies, [the] resolution pass[ed] unanimously, with 69 co-authors.”

Many proponents of safer/more restrictive youth football cite a recent Boston University study that showed that hits to the head, not concussions, cause CTE.  Hits to the head are thought to be simply a means of defense in football, not just the residual effect of defense, like a concussion.  Therefore, it’s harder to eliminate them while keeping the competitive edge of the sport.  (Getting rid of the tackle part of professional football would be more difficult, but it is still difficult in youth football, without allowing it to become touch football.)

What the safety rules of youth football should be is a good discussion to have, especially now that a Court-appointed Special Investigator has shown that some NFL players who have claimed brain injury did not, if fact, have such neurological problems.  The Investigator found, for example, that a law firm shared by dozens of NFL players purportedly coached the players on how to fail a neurological test.  A review of the post-NFL lives of some players who claimed themselves to be too cognitively impaired to work did, in fact, work – as motivational speakers, coaches, bankers, etc.

However, no one is fully certain about the effects of football on the brain. In April 2018, former 19-year NFL player Brett Favre spoke of whether his forgetfulness was because of he is aging, as he is 48, or, “do I have [the] early stages of CTE?  I don’t know.”  Research and news have made brain injury and football seem to always coincide, so Favre’s personal questioning is understandable.  Just as was noted in this website’s article related to Shaken Baby Syndrome though, the horrific easy answer isn’t always correct.  Whether or not the news about the CTE-football connection affects a state’s or a school district’s decision on whether to continue to offer football, whether schools stricken their football rules, and whether a parent chooses to allow their child to play the sport rests solely on them.

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