Use Your Head In Youth Sports

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I found it disconcerting that an article titled “Concussions: Stop The Invisible Injury,” which talked about “concussion prevention,” “fostering an atmosphere of safety first,” “the athlete’s health is first priority,” “protecting an athlete’s future,” “the lifelong impact this injury can have on an athlete,” and “parents can reinforce a safe sports environment by not promoting or encouraging moves that might compromise an athlete’s safety,” never once suggested the advisability of simply not allowing one’s young child to endanger his growing brain by playing (tackle) football, playing other helmet-required sports like hockey, becoming a boxer or playing a brain-rattling (from “heading” the ball) sport like soccer.

The article began with several false premises and assumptions. One is that “a concussion can occur in any sport,” as if it’s as common in basketball as in football. It also said that “a concussion…can occur in both contact and non-contact sports,” as if the incidences are equal in frequency or severity. I daresay concussions are nowhere near as common in baseball as in football. There’s a good reason that some sports require helmets be worn to protect one’s head and the brain inside the skull.

I think it’s unfortunate that this article tacitly assumed that football and other concussion-prone sports are some sort of “birthright” that our Bill of Rights guarantees every young boy be allowed to play. It then seemed to forget about “prevention” and only recommends that we do what we can to “reduce the frequency of concussions” and says that the “first step in concussion safety” is “knowing when to pull an injured athlete” out of a game — after he’s already received the blow to his head. That is too much like the proverbial “closing of the barn door after the horse is already out.” It also ignores the age-old wisdom that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Parents often claim that they “would do anything for (their) child;” and they don’t hesitate to forbid other activities dangerous to their child’s health and safety (like smoking and drinking) so I think they should “just say “no” when it comes to activities that routinely cause concussions in many participants.
I’m a sports fan who loves watching football, but I’m glad that as a child my friends and I only played “touch” football. The basics of the game: running with the ball, and throwing and catching passes were still sufficient fun. But there are so many other team and individual sports which do not routinely endanger one’s brain; such as tennis, volleyball, track and field, swimming, golf, and many others, that I think parents should practice the “tough love” of no football for their kids. NFL football will survive and prosper without your kid. Even if your child beat the astronomical odds against ever reaching the NFL, would you ever want him receiving any of the $765 million they will soon start handing out to retired players with ALS, Alzheimer’s Disease and C.T.E.?

Since the article’s concluding “Top 5 Concussion Prevention Tips For Parents and Coaches” do not suggest actual “prevention” here are my five competing tips:

1. Educate yourself on the seriousness of the after-affects — sometimes lifetime — of concussions on incompletely-formed brains.

2. Educate yourself about the scores of alternative, virtually concussion-free sports available to your child.

3. Do not allow your dependent child to play football.

4. Do not allow your child to become a boxer.

5. Do not even allow your child to play soccer (due to all the “heading”).

Richard Siegelman

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