How safe is youth football? – Monroe News Star

8 months ago Comments Off on How safe is youth football? – Monroe News Star

Just a few weeks after the movie “Concussion’’ hit theaters nationwide, an East Texas boys and girls club voted to drop tackle football.

That vote was symbolic over the debate of the safety of youth football.

After looking at evidence showing concussions due to the size and age of players in the program are infrequent, repeated blows to the head can add up and have negative long-term effects on players.

“We cannot be there for the children when we are engaging in an activity with these kind of documented results,’’ Boys & Girls Club of the Big Pines immediate past president Emily Prevost said in a statement.

The club will continue non-contact football in the form of seven-on-seven.

The club would have the support of Dr. Bennet Omalu.

Omalu wrote an editorial in the New York Times arguing because of the dangers of repetitive blows to the head, children and their developing brains should be prevented from playing America’s most popular sport. But Dr. Julian Bailes, a Natchitoches native and the medical director for Pop Warner Football, said no conclusive evidence exists to show concussions can cause long-term damage for youth football players.

“I don’t think he has any facts or experience or research in youth football to make that statement,” Bailes said. “Certainly, hitting your brain doesn’t do anyone any good but there have been a lot of changes made to the youth football level.”

He currently serves or has served on advisory boards at all levels and also worked closely with Omalu on extensive research concerning head injuries and football, which is portrayed in the movie, “Concussion.’’ Omalu is played by Will Smith, while Alex Baldwin plays the role of Bailes in a movie he said is “basically accurate” when it comes to the science and timeline of events.

He did, however, disagree with the movie’s depiction of Dr. Joseph Maroon — played by Arliss Howard — as an obstructionist who sided with the NFL when the findings were initially brought to light. Bailes said everyone, including himself, struggled with the idea of football causing career-ending or permanent problems, but stressed Maroon facilitated the research once he understood it.

Today’s science clearly shows NFL players can suffer long-term brain damage from thousands of blows accumulated over their careers, a fact Bailes said has been accepted at every level. But he argues with only “100 or less cranial impacts a season” at the youth level, the exposure to potential injury doesn’t rise above the risk of other activities such as skiing, swimming or hunting.

By comparison, Bailes estimated high school football players experience 600-800 impacts per season, and the number increases to more than 1,000 for college athletes. New rules have been implemented for games and practices to limit unnecessary contact, and Bailes said the game is as safe as it’s ever been.

“We also have a role in teaching our athletes and our youth about all things (in) which they may endeavor that have some risk,” said Bailes, the chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Chicago. “We also have to take that in mind and realize the myriad of benefits that youth and all athletes get, as well as we get in a society, from participation in sports.”

Both of his children play football, and he believes it should be a personal decision for all parents. Bailes noted participation in Pop Warner has gone down 9.6 percent in recent years, though he also said other factors such as one-sport specialization could be contributing factors.

Much more work remains to determine what makes people susceptible to concussions and what causes Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a long-term disease Omalu first diagnosed in former NFL center Mike Webster in 2002. It can cause numerous symptoms such as memory loss, depression, dementia and many other neurological conditions, often resulting in suicidal thoughts.

Bailes hopes to learn more about the prevalence of CTE and he’s optimistic doctors will be able to diagnose it in living brains, not just autopsies, within five years. But he doesn’t believe it affects young athletes and said studies showing more than 90 percent of NFL players have CTE are heavily biased because only families who suspected the disease had autopsies performed.

“There has not been a case of CTE reported in a youth player,” Bailes said, acknowledging many pro players who have been diagnosed with the disease also played youth football. “I think it’s very rare to get it from high school or college participation.”

He’ll continue his work to make the game safer, including the development of new helmets from Bauer designed to prevent the brain from moving around inside the skull.

Along with increasing education, Bailes said medical advancements should make it possible for kids to enjoy the rewards of football for many years to come.

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