Like many children, my 8-year-old son loves watching football. However,
whether he likes it or not, that fascination will have mom-imposed
limits. I don't ever want him to actually play the game. Anyone who has
seen the movie "Concussion,"the Will Smith drama about NFL players and
traumatic brain injuries, can probably relate. I worry that football is far
too dangerous for a kid, and now there is a study by Wake Forest Baptist
Medical Center to back up those fears.
According to the groundbreaking research, concussions are not the only
dangers young players face. Doctors found that even hits and tumbles can
cause changes in a child's brain. The study tracked 25 players between
the ages of 8 and 13 on a team in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The
kids were given helmets with special sensors that measured the frequency
and severity of their blows. Pre-season and post-season MRIs revealed
the small changes in white matter, which is the tissue that connects
It's not clear whether those changes are permanent, but experts say they
are happening at a critical time in kids' development.
important, particularly for children, because their brains are
undergoing such rapid change, particularly in the age category from
maybe 9 to 18. And we just don't know a lot of about it," said Dr. Chris
Whitlow, one of the lead researchers.
Despite their age, these kids were hitting each other pretty hard.
If one season impacted their brains, what happens over several years?
Experts say we may not know the affects for many more years. It's a
frightening thought. Though, even parents armed with this knowledge say
it will be difficult to forbid their sons from playing.
"They bring the
football to church. They bring the football to track
practice," Kindra Ritzle-Worthy, whose two sons play, told Today.
"Actually, my oldest—I found out he was sleeping
with the football."
Former Minnesota Viking Greg DeLong, whose son Jake also participated in the
study, is torn. He made him take a two-year break from football
because of headaches but then allowed him to play again. But as a
former NFL player, DeLong has seen lives ruined by the concussion-induced brain disease
chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
"If there's a change in our son's
scan at the end of this season, we're
probably gonna pull him," he said. "It's just not worth it."