Monday, October 18, 2010

Reperconcussions On My Mind

On Sunday, 5 head-shot tackles took out 6 professional football players, and that's just from the front-page bylines.  The carnage piled up until even the NFL has announced plans to increase penalties.  I hope the NFL is as concerned when a defensive player whines that the new penalties made him give up a game-winning touchdown.

The NCAA should be concerned.  Defensive tackle Eric LeGrand of Rutgers was paralyzed from the neck down after a special-teams hit on Saturday.  Penalties haven't been increased as these players volunteer for their schools and their teammates.  No guaranteed millions or ex-players' associations, although I believe (hope?) universities have a good track record of taking care of their own.

That's 7 people.  At least, in the headlines.  Even if that's all the injuries, a new study indicates damage at much lower thresholds.  Purdue University followed 21 high school football players, and while 4 had concussions, 4 other players with no evident symptoms suffered a greater decrease in cognitive function than the concussed players.  That's high school players with no symptoms.
"We've confirmed what a few other researchers have hinted at: There is something going on and it doesn't manifest itself with symptoms," said the article's co-author Larry Leverenz, a clinical professor in the department of health and kinesiology and an athletic trainer at Purdue. 
The study was too small for statistical significance, but doesn't it suggest we need significant studies?  If the Purdue study is off by an order of magnitude, that's still one in 30 players - 1-3 on each high school team, 3 on each college team, 2 on each NFL team.  And I don't think anyone thinks the effects are that rare.

I hope the NFL's new penalties work.  I hope they find a way to trickle down the effects to college and high school.  Until then, I hope people stop subjecting their children to these unquantified but KNOWN risks.


  1. I never know what to think about this kind of thing. We humans have a long history of celebrating those who can knock themselves around the most and still get up, and there are still quite a few jobs out there for people who want to use their brain over their brawn. So is it up to me to try to stop people from doing something they want to do because it's bad for them? I don't think so (otherwise half the grocery store would be would cars). If it was my child,how would I feel? I just don't know. I'm down with stricter penalties. I'd like to see more education at a younger age. But the sad thing about the second is that unless a nationwide down with football campaign of "just say no" proportions was launched, I don't think it would affect the numbers of young men signingon to play with the funny shaped ball.

  2. I think educating people on the risks is the main point of the current media attention.

    Like smoking, or eating unhealthfully, with more exposure to the risks came a decline in the activity.

    Contrast those to seatbelts, though. I've not understood why we should be fined for being stupid. Maybe it's the healthcare costs, but that's a pretty soft point to argue.

  3. The problem is that this starts with kids. An 18-year-old should be able to decide to play football, but if he's been suffering brain damage to universal applause for the last 10 years, is that a real choice? Helmet and smoking laws make choices for children and their parents. We probably need more data to justify that level of intervention, but if the NFL claims to take this issue seriously, they need to be finding that data.