Can Brain Injuries be Better Prevented in Youth Football?
As coaches and parents in Colorado and around the country become more concerned about the long-term effects of repeat concussions, youth football programs are instituting changes to reduce concussions in practices and games. The Pop Warner youth football program recently changed its practices to limit contact between players to only one-third of practice. The program will also prohibit head-to-head contact. Pop Warner says that two-thirds of players currently in the National Football League were initially trained in its youth football programs.
Recently, 86 lawsuits were consolidated to create one class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 2,300 former professional football players against the NFL, their former employer. The players accuse league officials of knowing more about the risks of repeat concussions on long-term brain health than they told players and not doing enough to prevent brain injuries in players.
The players say that they now suffer the effects of long-term brain damage due to repeat concussions. These effects include early-onset dementia and chronic depression. Players suffering the long-term effects of repeat concussions throughout their youth and careers look back and wonder if this damage to their brains could have been prevented.
Increasing Pressure To Change The Game Of Football
Some professional football players and sports sociologists say that football is facing a turning point where the game will have to change due to increased information about permanent damage to players’ brains and long-term health. Some believe it may even lose popularity and join other violent fringe sports like boxing or other fighting sports. Some former professional players, such as Bart Scott of the New York Jets, even say they won’t let their own children play football.
Already, the NFL has increased penalties for direct hits to the head. More changes will likely come in the wake of the class action lawsuit. If nothing else, players’ contracts will change so that they are aware of potential future health effects before agreeing to play. Equipment may be improved and player rosters could be expanded so that players with concussions have more time to heal before returning to the field.
Many brain injury experts believe that the youth football changes don’t go far enough. Brain injuries are more dangerous in children and adolescents because their brains are still developing. It may be that the game of football will fundamentally change from the ground up, so that boys are not taught that being a man means risking your brain. Youth football players may play flag football and concentrate on learning the strategy of the game, conditioning and throwing and catching skills, rather than playing full-contact football with its high risk for brain injury.
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