When we think of reaching our retirement age, most of us imagine ourselves relaxing, with gray hair and surrounded by grandchildren. However, for professional football players, the health risks of the job – specifically brain injuries – may prompt retirement at a much younger age.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, for one, recently announced his decision to retire from the sport at the age of 24. The reason: Fear of damaging his brain, even in the face of fame and a lucrative contract, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Borland’s fear is not unwarranted. Brain injuries are common wherever there is repeated impact. These injuries can lead to physical and mental disabilities.
Football is a particularly risky activity. High school football players suffer concussions – a mild form of TBI – at a rate of 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 games and practices, while the rate for college football players is 6.3, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine.
Among NFL players, the rate of concussions has dropped – but still remains high. In 2014, the league saw 202 concussions over the course of the season, the Associated Press reports.
Even small hits can add up to serious damage. Several prominent NFL players, including Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, took their own lives. They were found to be suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurological disease which can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts, the Washington Post notes.
The Risk of Brain Injury for Young Players
It makes news when a professional football player such as Borland retires in his early 20s. However, researchers and parents are also now beginning to question whether football is a safe sport at even younger ages.
One reason why football may be risky for children is that their brains have not finished developing. The nerve cells in their brains do not yet have full protective sheaths. This means that an impact to the head is more likely to result in a concussion, as a recent article in Slate.com describes.
Slate reports that a Wisconsin woman believes her son’s participation in youth football led to his suicide at age 25. Like Duerson and Seau, it was found that he had CTE. The woman has brought the case to court, seeking to hold the Pop Warner national youth football organization responsible.
In response to concerns, Pop Warner has instituted measures such as training coaches to better recognize concussion symptoms. Still, some experts are convinced the sport is inherently far too dangerous for kids, Slate reports.
How Parents Can Help Kids Play Safer
There are certain ways to reduce the risks for young football players. In a Huffington Post column, Charlotte Jones Anderson, a Dallas Cowboys official whose two sons play football, discusses some of the steps parents can take.
For instance, parents can:
- Teach their children about tackling or blocking in a manner in which heads are less likely to collide. This is called using “heads up” technique.
- They can also limit the amount of time that a child plays per week and be certain to seek medical attention at the first sign of a possible head injury. On that note, parents should verify that coaches are certified (or at least properly trained) to recognize those symptoms.
- Parents should also make sure that the child’s helmet fits correctly and demand that coaches provide a new helmet if it does not.
It is impossible to eliminate all the safety risks that our young children face. However, these simple steps can go a long way to protecting a young football player’s health for the long term.
If you believe your child has experienced a sports-related brain injury due to the negligence of others, you should take steps to protect your legal rights. Just call Geoff. You can reach our firm by phone or through our online form today.