Is Brain Trauma Worth the Game?

Brad M. Griffin | Feb 23, 2012

Football season is over, so a reflection like this is temporarily allowed (though Ill probably get grief for it in my office). In a recent article, journalist Patrick Hruby compiles some research to address the question of brain trauma in youth football. The article, titled End Game: Brain Trauma And The Future Of Youth Football In America, notes:

Football has a problem. The game harms the human brain. The danger is acute at the professional level, where large men smash each other for large sums of money; the hazard is less publicized, but greater still, at the high school and youth level, where an estimated 4.8 million children —sons, nephews and little brothers, most between the ages of 6 and 13—batter each other’s heads for fun

Yet despite growing awareness and new regulations and rules for youth football to help protect kids from long-term harm, Hruby wonders aloud, What if the risk can’t be managed? What if parents, coaches, and fans continue to not care and not pay attention, for the love of the sport?

The Boston Globe recently reported that emergency room visits for youth sports-related traumatic brain injuries went up 62 percent from 2001 to 2009. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has labeled sports concussions “an epidemic,” reported last year that roughly 122,000 youths between the ages of 10 and 19 went to emergency rooms for nonfatal brain injuries. For boys, the top cause of injury was playing football.

And because many young athletes re-enter play before healing, they are prone to suffer multiple concussions. This puts them at serious risk for further (and more permanent) complications down the road. According to one study, more than 40% of high school athletes return to the field too quickly. And given the average high school lineman receives an estimated 1,000-1,500 hits to the head in a season, the risks add up.

Does the issue come down, as Hruby suggests, to either protecting our national pastime or protecting our childrens brains? What does it say about our culture that a game oriented around intentional attack has such a strong pull that wed rather continue to embrace it than address very real concerns about its long-term impact on the players? Or are these questions all part of the movement of overparenting and overprotection?

Here in the off-season, maybe its a good time to wonder aloud about some of these questions. And perhaps to wonder about our adult obsession with youth sports performance in general. Is it all worth the game?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.

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