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The dangers of high school football

Colorado is a great football state. Not only do the Denver Broncos have three Super Bowl wins to their credit, thrilling their thousands of avid fans, football fever pervades virtually all colleges and high schools in the state. One can only speculate as to how many local high school quarterbacks dream of becoming the next John Elway or Peyton Manning. Some of these boys started playing Pop Warner football at the age of six. One likewise can only speculate as to how many concussions these boys, quarterbacks or otherwise, receive while playing this high-contact sport.

Today, tackle football is America’s favorite high school sport. The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that more than 1 million boys participate in it. If your son is one of them, you need to know that these 1 million teenagers suffer more concussions than their peers who participate in other high school sports. For instance, your son is four times more likely to suffer a concussion than a male basketball player and 16 times more likely than a baseball player. At least two high school football players die each year after suffering a traumatic head injury.

Concussions and their aftereffects

When your son takes a hit to the head during a football game because another player tackles or trips him, the force of his head hitting the other player’s body, possibly additional players’ bodies as well, and ultimately the ground can result in a concussion, an injury to his brain when it moves quickly and violently back and forth in his skull. This extreme movement causes chemical changes in his brain and can also stretch and damage his brain cells. Helmet-to-helmet contact is the most serious type of football collision and the one that can cause the most damage.

By definition, a concussion is a “mild” traumatic brain injury. Your son may pass out, either temporarily or for a frighteningly lengthy period. If he receives repeated concussions, however mild, throughout his football career, he is at high risk for developing one or more of the following conditions:

  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease associated with memory loss and depression
  • Post-concussion syndrome, a complex disorder associated with severe headaches, dizziness, insomnia, irritability, anxiety and a number of other symptoms
  • Multiple sclerosis, a chronic, progressive central nervous system disease associated with speech and vision impairment, loss of muscle coordination, numbness and severe fatigue

Protective gear

While football gear, especially helmets, is far more protective than it used to be, if your son’s helmet does not fit properly, it could actually make it more likely that he will receive a severe concussion. A lack of training or supervision during games also increased the likelihood of injuries. Some researchers, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fear that today’s football players often “lead with their heads” in the erroneous belief that better gear protects them from serious injuries. In addition, today’s football players are considerably bigger and stronger than they were even 20 years ago. Other researchers fear that this increased weight and strength counterbalance any protection that improved gear can provide. 

Bottom line, football is a dangerous, albeit exciting, competitive sport. Carefully check out your child's school’s football safety program. Also attempt to determine the prevailing attitude of the coaching staff. Are they more interested in winning at any cost or are they more interested in teaching sportsmanship and playing clean games where skill and strategy are far more important than brawn and violence? If a lack of safety training, oversight or defective gear leads to your child being injured, then you should contact legal counsel. 

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