Saturday, December 12, 2015

Children and Contact Sports

"If a child who plays football is subjected to advanced radiological and neurocognitive studies during the season and several months after the season, there can be evidence of brain damage at the cellular level of brain functioning, even if there were no documented concussions or reported symptoms. If that child continues to play over many seasons, these cellular injuries accumulate to cause irreversible brain damage, which we know now by the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a disease that I first diagnosed in 2002."

Dr. Bennet Omalu, in an opinion piece in a recent issue of the New York Times, arrived at this conclusion concerning the possible damages that may result when children are involved in major contact sports, like football, at young ages.  The conclusion drawn here, however, is purely suppositional.  Children are not subjected to these "radiological and neurocognitive studies" as described and there is no factual knowledge about brain injury in these children. No such study has been done, to the best of my knowledge. That doesn't mean that such injury may not have occurred, but there is no data supporting the claim.  As a rule, young children, with proper protective gear, rarely get injured from mild contact in sport as they are not heavy enough or strong enough to inflict such injury.  Yes, it may come from falling on the ground, but rarely from contact with a rather light, small player.

Nevertheless, there would be nothing wrong with modifying contact sports so that injuries are less likely.  Does football really require tackling at such a young age? Should head shots be eliminated in soccer for young players, etc.?  Not only helmets, but well-regulated restriction of actions that could result in injury, may be very helpful in eliminating, or at least reducing injuries in children engaged in contact sports.  One need not necessarily eliminate the sport, just modify some of the rules to make it safer.