Broken bones, sprained ankles and torn ACLs have long been realities in football. Rehab can be a long and painful process, but most of the time you can get back on the field and resume playing at a high level.
However, the revelation that repeated concussions can cause a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is making some people question whether football is safe for humans.
Learn more about CTE here.
Now this concern may actually be having tangible effects. In a recent poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, 40 percent of the adults surveyed would encourage their children to play sports other than football.
This is the most plausible explanation for why Pop Warner saw a 9.5 percent drop in participation between 2010 and 2012. Although USA Football and Pop Warner point to no specific reason for the drop, it would be disingenuous to overlook the growing concern about the effects of concussions.
After several high-profile suicides were linked to CTE and the NFL awarded $765 million to former players to settle a lawsuit alleging that the league didn't do enough to protect them, the NFL took action to reduce the frequency and severity of concussions. They banned head-to-head contact and now penalize tackling a defenseless receiver. If a concussion is suspected, the affected player must immediately be removed from the game, and he can't return until he is symptom-free—a critical step for preventing future issues.
But is football inherently dangerous, or more dangerous than other sports? Probably not. Chris Nowinksi, president of the Sports Legacy Institute, has been quoted as saying, "Athletes in all sports are at risk. In fact, a study done at Nationwide Children's Hospital found that reported concussions happened nearly as often in girls high school soccer as they did in football during a two-season span."
Any time athletes are moving at high speed and a ball (or a puck) is being thrown around, there's bound to be contact to the head at some point, either from a legal tackle or body check or from an accidental collision.
The keys are to find ways to limit contact to the head and to educate athletes, making it clear that if they experience symptoms of a concussion, they must get off the field or ice. Fighting through a head injury is simply not worth the long-term cost.
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