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Should young people be allowed to play heavy contact sports now that we know they can cause permanent brain damage? Should there be new education, equipment or rule changes to help prevent concussions in football?
While football fans prepare for Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, the National Football League (NFL) has come under intense scrutiny for what critics are calling a “concussion crisis” or “concussion epidemic”.
More than 4,500 former professional football players filed suit against the league, accusing it of fraud over its handling of concussions. Last year, the players won the suit, forcing the NFL to pay $765 million according to the AP, including “$675 million for compensatory claims for players with neurological symptoms, $75 million for baseline testing for asymptomatic men and $10 million for medical research and education.” Now, one judge is saying even this enormous amount might not be enough to cover the costs of the players.
The settlement came on the tails of a documentary co-produced by PBS FRONTLINE and ESPN that detailed the NFL’s efforts to suppress research linking football-related concussions to severe mental disorders later in life. ESPN later pulled out of the “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” due to pressure from the NFL, its largest business partner. PBS will air an encore presentation of the documentary January 28.
The controversial research concluded that repeated knocks to the head, especially but not limited to concussions, cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that can cause symptoms of dementia, including memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, often times many years after the trauma. Not all football players see these symptoms, suggesting there might be other factors, like genetics, that play a part in developing CTE.
However, CTE is not just limited to pro athletes who hit each other with tremendous force – reports of CTE in young athletes are on the rise, and doctors say players who enter the game early in life are particularly vulnerable to damaging their developing brains.
This research has opened debate on whether young athletes should be playing heavy contact sports like football, or if the hits are just part of the game. Is playing football, or even soccer and lacrosse, worth the risk of causing brain disease in the future?
PBS NewsHour video Young Football Players Take Big-League Hits to Head
Virginia Tech researchers placed helmets with sensors on 7- and 8-year-old football players and collected data on more than 750 hits to the head over a season. The findings are the first quantitative study of the acceleration and risk that young brains face in youth football. Special correspondent Stone Phillips reports.
To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowConcussion
For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.
We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.
PBS NewsHour video New Study Examines Effects of Concussions in Children
A new report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine focusing on sports-related concussions in youth suggests that the culture of sports, poor helmet design and risky sports create risk factors that could lead to medical complications later in life.
PBS NewsHour Extra article Head Injuries Raise Questions About Safety of Football
Since the beginning of the 2010 season, more than 41 NFL players have suffered a concussion — an injury to the brain — leading the league to begin issuing fines of up to $75,000 for harsh hits and suspensions for players who tackle above the neck and lead with their helmets.
KQED QUEST video Sidelined: Sports Concussions
Studying the damage caused by a concussion at its source, inside the brain, is no easy feat. As Dr. Geoffrey Manley, Chief of Neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital told me, “What we’re dealing with is one of the most complicated injuries in the most complicated organ in the body. The brain has millions of cells that use many, many neurotransmitters to be able to talk to different regions of the brain, so it’s very complicated.”
PBS NewsHour video Pop Warner Football Issues New Safety Rules
Pop Warner Football — the organization that oversees many kids’ tackle football teams across the nation — recently issued new rules, concerned about the health effects of hard hits on young athletes’ brains.