Football and head trauma…is it really that bad???
I get asked my opinion on this quite often, given my line of work. Many things in life are in the “grey zone”. For example, someone is deciding what college to attend. They consider the pluses and minuses of each college, cost, reputation, academic standing and make a choice. Same thing in buying a car. Here’s another “grey” one… should you drink alcohol? It depends. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, no…the list is endless. Then there are some that are clearly one or the other. Should you wear seatbelts? That’s a “yes”. Should you smoke crack? That’s a “no”.
Should you play football?
If you are willing to accept the consequences of head trauma the answer is “yes”. It’s not a matter of “if” there is going to be head trauma. It’s a matter of the degree of head trauma. Now there are a lot of people including those in the medical field that will disagree with me. But I am basing my answer on the laws of physics and the only one that can change those is the man upstairs.
Physics states that a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. When the head make contact with an immovable object, the contents of the skull, the brain, smashes into the bony prominences of the skull. In many instances, the contact is not at a perpendicular angle, it is not a straight impact. It is slightly off center, causing not only the impact but also a twisting motion at the base of the brain and spinal cord. So you have the bruising of the brain on the skull and a tearing at the base of the brain. Now you can design a better helmet…more cushioning, etc. but that does not take away from the physics described above. You still have the brain floating in the cerebral spinal fluid in the skull. Once the injury occurs, subsequent impacts have a cumulative effect. Now statistics will tell you the vast majority of people that sustain a mild head injury will fully recover. But there is a problem with the research. Let’s say you have a car with an engine that can easily reach 180 m.p.h. You have an accident that damages the engine and reduces it to 130 m.p.h. In the normal course of driving you can keep up with the other cars that were built with an average 130 m.p.h. engine. You don’t notice the loss because you started out with more power in the beginning! Same with head trauma research. A person who is above average to start may lose mental ability after a head injury but it may not show up on testing.
Football helmets give a false sense of security. Do they help reduce the impact, yes. Do they prevent brain damage at all times, no. Should there be pee-wee football leagues, no. Here’s another way to look at it, and I know it sounds crass but it’s based on the physics of football. How many IQ points are you willing to spend to do the activity or allow your child to do it? As medical knowledge advances activities that many have enjoyed for a long time have to be looked at through the lens of this new knowledge. Another example is post-traumatic stress syndrome. It used to be common to tell the person to “suck it up”, “be a man”. Now we know PTSD causes chemical changes in the brains of some people.
Brain injuries are particularly insidious. There’s no outward sign anything is wrong. They may hear “Why can’t you get back to work…you look fine to me”. I’m admittedly biased because I see a lot of people after head trauma. But when you look at the whole picture, it just doesn’t seem to be worth the risk.