Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 18, 2017

The dangers of playing football

By Jim Turner | Oct 12, 2017

To the editor:

The truth is out now about how dangerous football is. It began in earnest with a breathtakingly revelatory New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell in 2009. But since then, a Will Smith film called “Concussion” has raised awareness beyond the turning point.

The public is aware of the serious, long-term, health risks involved in playing football. A recent autopsy of 111 former professional football players showed incontrovertible evidence of a brain disease called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in 110 of those players.

Concussions are a virtual certainty for anyone who plays football long enough to have a professional career. And CTE is now so prevalent among retired players that the NFL has agreed to pay billions of dollars to the former players and their families. Nonetheless, the game continues to be played much the same as it has been before.

That is not my primary concern or the most important purpose of this letter. The players are adults, capable of making responsible decisions for themselves.

My concern is the much younger football player, just starting out on a career that may last through his college years if he is good enough. A recent Washington Post article reports that neuroscientists from Boston University conducted a series of cognitive tests on 214 people who played football at various levels: high school, college and professional. The people who began playing before the age of 12 were twice as likely to have problems with loss of self control, including impaired judgment and problem solving functions.

They were three times more likely to develop symptoms of depression. The effects appeared regardless of how long or to what level they went on to play. The younger they started, the worse the risk. With this evidence in, it makes sense to keep children whose brains are rapidly developing from hitting their heads over and over again in a game like football.

How we address this problem as responsible adults in our communities is the primary purpose of this letter. Football is likely to be around for several more years. At least at the professional level it will be. But wouldn’t it stand to reason that a few important modifications be made to the game for the safety of children?

It is time to make some decisions in the interests of our children in light of what we know now are the dangers of playing football. Everything from recommending less dangerous sports like soccer and lacrosse, to prohibiting participation in football among students at a delicate stage of brain development. The whole community must be involved to develop a workable plan that everyone can agree with.

My suggestion would be to convene a committee of doctors, coaches, former players, parents and concerned citizens to begin discussing ways we can protect and preserve the health of our children who participate in contact sports. Let’s get together and make some common sense decisions that benefit everyone, but especially the children who are most vulnerable and who need it most.

 

— Jim Turner, Fairfield

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