The growing national conversation about the risks of brain damage to athletes in high-contact sports is, with any luck, headed toward fever pitch.
As pro football players continue to come forward to admit to examinations, and as incidents of suicide, such as the MLB's Ryan Freel, link to diagnoses of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), debates rage over who should be accountable for players' brain injuries (the NFL or helmet makers or players themselves?) and what should be done to change the way these games are played—some even suggesting that football helmets themselves should be banned.
No matter the opinions on the brain injury crisis in high-contact sports, the facts appear to be irrefutable: that players at all levels, from youth to professional leagues, are experiencing concussions, which, if not treated seriously, can lead to long-term, even permanent, brain damage.
Concussion, though, may not even be the first indicator of brain injury, as a recent study of Dartmouth College athletes shows:
that a season-long succession of small hits—none hard enough to cause evident disorientation or draw medical attention—may prompt changes in the brain that cause problems with memory, mood or mental performance years down the road. (Los Angeles Times, 12/11/13)Studies like this one will likely fuel the debates, and some are bound to construe the psychological findings as paranoia-baiting—while still others are going to just settle on these as known risks, which you "sign up for" when you step onto the field—but there's no denying the need for more information on how to identify signs of brain injury, no matter how mild it may seem, and how to know when it's safe and sensible to get back in the game.
Parents especially have a responsibility to know the warning signs of concussion in their children—and they need to know how to take a more active role in preventing injury. For this reason, UPNE was proud to publish last year Rosemarie Scolaro Moser's book, Ahead of the Game: The Parent's Guide to Youth Sports Concussion.
Moser, a neuropsychologist, hockey mom, and director of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey, has worked with thousands of young and professional athletes, and she provides the tools that parents and players should have, whether they're mid-season or just trying to decide if they should suit up in the first place.
Too much of what Moser's book lays plain has for years—and for generations of athletes—been either difficult to ascertain or unavailable. As high-contact sports get bigger, faster, harder and even higher-contact, the risks of brain injury should be common knowledge.