For many Americans, the month of August means the return of their favorite sport - football. And while the NFL and NCAA kick off in grand fashion, the excitement also builds closer to home around high school and Pop Warner youth football. While many of us love watching football or playing it, in recent years the news headlines have been rocked by revelations of the terrible long-term effects of multiple concussions received on the gridiron. Events like the suicide of hall of famer Junior Seau and many other tragedies brought home the awful reality of brain trauma and neurodegenerative disease to both players and fans.
Now that the NFL has agreed in principle to pay out hundreds of millions in damages to former players in a landmark lawsuit, we can notice a corresponding trend: participation in youth and high school football is on the decline. An Outside the Lines report from last year states that for three years now, the number of boys playing Pop Warner football has receded by nearly 10%, a fact that can most likely be attributed to the concerns of parents over possible traumatic brain injuries.
And parents have a right to be concerned. According to the Brain Injury Association in Alexandria, VA, 82,000 people suffer brain injuries each year as a result of contact sports - and that includes children playing in Pop Warner and other youth football leagues. Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, the top medical officer for Pop Warner, readily admits that a growing awareness of the dangers of concussions is the "number one" reason for the drop in participation.
Although youth football does not produce as many concussions as high school football, a child's brain is more vulnerable to traumatic injuries and impacts. So until comprehensive new rules for safety are instituted in football, parents had better think long and hard about the potential dangers inherent to the sport.