Football Brain Injuries: How Dangerous Is It To Play Football?


Football Brain Injuries: How Dangerous Is It To Play Football?

Football season is upon us once again.  Here in Indiana, high school football contests begin this weekend, on Friday, August 18, 2017.  The NCAA Schedule has collegiate football beginning on August 26, 2017.

The Indianapolis Colts played their first game of the 2017 Season in a pregame matchup yesterday against the Detroit Lions (the Colts lost).  The NFL’s official football season is set to begin on September 7, 2017.

For Hoosiers and everyone in Illinois, football is a beloved American tradition. There are many fans and parents (as well as players) who are eagerly anticipating this new football season.  Hopes are high that their team goes to state, or the Super Bowl, as the case may be.

However, flying in the face of all this excitement is the cold reality of a new research study released this month by  the Journal of the American Medical Association  (“CTE Football Study”).

You may download the full research study here:  Mez J, Daneshvar DH, Kiernan PT, Abdolmohammadi B, Alvarez VE, Huber BR, Alosco ML, Solomon TM, Nowinski CJ, McHale L, Cormier KA, Kubilus CA, Martin BM, Murphy L, Baugh CM, Montenigro PH, Chaisson CE, Tripodis Y, Kowall NW, Weuve J, McClean MD, Cantu RC, Goldstein LE, Katz DI, Stern RA, Stein TD, McKee AC. Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football. JAMA. 2017;318(4):360–370. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.8334

In this shocking new study, it is revealed that ninety-nine percent (99%) of the brains of former NFL football players tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) were found to have the degenerative brain disorder.

We have discussed CTE before, and wondered how the public reaction would be to the revelations of this brain disease after increased public awareness was built about its connection with playing football.  See:

And we wondered if the movie Concussion,  would do much to make the general public more aware and concerned about the reality of brain injury from blows to the head.  It appears that this film helped; however, the August 2017 CTE Football Study may do even more to bring needed focus on the risks to players who play in sports that involve the steady danger of repeated, harsh blows to the head.

Risk of CTE Not Limited to Football: Blows to the Brain in Accidents, Other Sports

Of course, CTE is not limited to football players.  Getting hit in the head and sustaining a blow to the brain while playing any kind of sport or being in a serious accident of some kind can also cause CTE.

In fact, this shocking new CTE Football Study began with researchers investigating not only football players, but hockey players, rugby players, and military personnel who had suffered blows to the head during combat.

A CTE study several years ago by McKee and her colleagues included football players and athletes from other collision sports such as hockey, soccer and rugby. It also examined the brains of military veterans who had suffered head injuries.

2017 Outcry Against Football Dangers of Traumatic Brain Injury

After this August 2017 CTE Football Study, several voices are resounding around the nation questioning whether or not children, or athletes of any age, should be playing American football.

In an op-ed piece published in The Hill, Dr. Lynn R. Webster, vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and the former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, believes “Congress needs to recognize the seriousness of football-related brain injuries.”

Dr. Webster points to research findings of deceased American football players (high school, college, and professional) that found 87% suffered from CTE.  That’s teenagers who are playing school sports and suffering permanent brain damage. 

In another column published by the Chicago Tribune entitled “Is the risk of brain injury too high a price for football?,” freelance columnist Randy Blaser questions whether or not anyone under the legal age of consent should be allowed to play football, given the known danger of CTE revealed by these studies.

Blaser suggests that children and teenagers are not in a position to make the decision about whether or not it is worth the risk of permanent brain injury to play on a school football team. 

Adults can decide whether or not to risk altering their future or limiting their life span by choosing to play football – but should those under the legal age of consent be treated the same way?

Children, Traumatic Brain Injuries, and School Sports

This new CTE Football Study may not be required reading for the employees of every school in Indiana and Illinois, but the insurance companies who provide policy coverage to those schools will likely share the study’s results with their policyholders.  Or they’ll provide some kind of report discussing the risks of traumatic brain injury (TBI) to student athletes.

See, e.g., the February 2014 article in the Insurance Claims Journal entitled “The Rising Score of Youth Sports Head Injury Claims, ” which pointed out that concussion brain injuries are more likely to be suffered by high school students playing football than college football players.

That’s because increased public awareness is going to educate parents and guardians on the realities of school sport injuries, and hopefully more student athletes suffering brain injuries will receive vital medical care and treatment faster – and more will be protected from TBIs in the first place.

Suing the School District (Coaches, etc.) for Student Traumatic Brain Injury

For minor children (kids, tweens, and teens) who are injured by a blow to the head or repeated blows to the brain while playing school sports, it is possible for these victims to obtain financial damages from the school district and those responsible for overseeing the child.  These damages can cover things like long term medical care, rehab therapy needs, and more.

However, filing lawsuits against school districts, coaches, private schools, and others who may share the liability for the child’s harm can be difficult.

The parent will have to institute the lawsuit on the child’s behalf.  Medical experts will have to give opinions on the extent of the head injuries and the long term care and treatment needs for the child into the future (and perhaps for his or her lifetime).

The issue of the “immunity defense” must be researched legally.  Does the school district have any kind of legal shield based upon the governmental immunity doctrine in the particular case?

As we enter into the 2017 Football Season, everyone needs to be vigilant regarding potential harm suffered by athletes on the field regardless of their age.  However, for student athletes under the legal age of majority, it is particularly dangerous to play football because the risk of permanent brain injury and life-long harm is high.  CTE is a proven risk.  Let’s be careful out there!

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