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Brain Injuries From Football in Illinois

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Chicago TBI Lawyer

Sorry Son. I Don’t Want To Risk Your Brain For Football.

Football season is here. I love football. I’m a diehard Chicago Bears fan. When I was a kid, I played tackle football. I was in the pee wee league and was proud to be a full back and linebacker for the Skokie Raiders. When I got to high school, I was about five feet tall and didn’t weigh much over a hundred pounds. My dad told me I couldn’t play because he didn’t want me getting hit by kids twice my size. I protested unsuccessfully but now that I’ve become familiar with brain injuries resulting from football, I can honestly say, “Thanks Dad.”

Brain injuries in football have garnered much attention recently. Several former National Football League (NFL) players have filed a lawsuit claiming the league failed to treat concussions and tried to conceal the link between football and brain injuries. Because of what’s happening in the NFL, people, including this proud father of a young boy who wants to play tackle football, are becoming much more aware of head trauma and its consequences.

Brain Injury Basics:

Concussions are mild traumatic brain injuries caused by a direct blow to or a shaking of the head resulting in enough force to bang the brain against the skull. When the brain hits the skull, there is a mild to severe injury to the brain. Not surprisingly, football players have the highest incidence of concussion amongst athletes. It is of utmost importance to note that “mild” brain injuries or concussion are brain injuries, nonetheless. “Mild” only refers to someone being very unlikely to die. However, the consequences can be much more severe, with long lasting physical, emotional and cognitive problems.

Contrary to popular belief, loss of consciousness is not the telltale sign of a concussion. In fact, most young athletes who suffer from a concussion will not have been “knocked out.” Approximately 10 percent of concussions lead to a loss of consciousness. People who suffer a head trauma may experience headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, inability to recall events surrounding the injury, mood changes, sleep disturbances, or a combination of these symptoms. These signals may appear immediately, may take a few days to show up or may not show up at all. Medical research shows that chronic brain injury can occur even without actual concussions.

With the attention that the NFL and brain injuries have recently received, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is often referenced. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Not even the medical experts fully understand what causes CTE to occur. Complicating matters is that we do not have methods of diagnosing CTE in the living. Currently, it can be done only after death.

Children and Brain Injuries from Football

What is happening, exactly, to the brains of our children who play tackle football? When do brain traumas become irreversible? If our children are exposed to hundreds of low-level head hits (sub concussive hits) during a football season, what, if any, damage is caused? No one really knows. That’s the point here – there are still many unknowns.

Though there has been a lot of recent media attention given to NFL players with brain injuries, there has been very little media attention regarding brain injuries in younger football players and children. However, there are bone chilling findings in children’s brains who play football. CTE has been discovered in high school football players who had suffered multiple head traumas.

Why isn’t the media talking about our children? Why don’t parents realize that their children could be increasing their chances of various types of brain damage later in life every time he butts heads with another player? Are parents unknowingly subjecting their children to irreversible brain injuries that only manifest years later with side effects such as memory loss, depression, rage, impulsive behavior and early dementia, to name but a few?

Stories of Brain Injuries in Children

  • Not long ago, a 10-year-old youth football player died as a result of a head injury. He collapsed during a kickoff drill. His coaches said there was no contact at the time, although he was involved in normal contact earlier in practice.
  • An eighth-grade boy collapsed while playing a football game. He was tackled on the field. He got up, walked to sidelines, and then collapsed. Sadly, he died the next day. The autopsy revealed that the boy died from a head trauma.
  • A high school football player ended up in the hospital with a severe brain injury. After watching a tape of the football field, no out of the ordinary events popped out to highlight when the injury could have occurred.
  • Most recently, a college football player died less than a week after he collapsed at football practice between routine drills. The cause – uncontrollable brain swelling.

Children’s brains are more vulnerable to injury than adult brains. So when my son, now nine years old asked me if he could join tackle football next year, I had to say “Sorry Son. Choose a different sport.” As much as he likes football and as much as I would like to be on the sidelines watching him, I don’t want my son to play, not when there is increasing medical evidence of repetitive head trauma causing chronic brain injury and even death. Do I want my son to risk suffering from the long term complications associated with head injuries so he and I can have short term seasonal athletic satisfaction? Heck no!

My son’s a tough kid. He’s competitive. Would he feel compelled to play through common symptoms of head injuries such as fatigue, headache and nausea? Would he be forthcoming with me about his symptoms if he did suffer an injury? I’d like to think so but I don’t know.

So what do we do to protect our children’s brains? Here are some thoughts:

  • We need to educate parents and children about the potential long term consequences of playing tackle football;
  • We need to raise parental and coaching awareness of detecting concussions and head injuries;
  • We need to continue efforts to develop better helmets;
  • We need to educate coaches and children about safer blocking and tackling techniques that do not use the head;
  • We need long-term studies of children who play tackle football;
  • We need to develop methods of diagnosing CTE in the living;
  • We need to limit contact during practices to cut back collision time;
  • We need to change the culture of football – one that values the hardest, most vicious hits; and

We need to make sure that any player who suffers a head injury be evaluated by a doctor and receive medical clearance before returning to play.

Of course, brain injuries are not limited to football. Any sport or activity with the potential for repetitive head trauma can place children at risk. However, with more than 4 million children playing tackle football, we should at least do our best to protect their brains.

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