Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton has made headlines lately, not just for his play on the field, but for his complaints to the NFL Commissioner off the field. Newton, a strong and mobile quarterback, has been hit hard this season, with few if any penalties called for the hits. He’s said he “doesn’t feel safe” on the field anymore, an issue he and his team have brought up to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The continuing discussion on when, or if, football is ever played safety was brought up again in a recent article in The Atlantic. The article quotes Christopher Whitlow, chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who wanted to see how head impact affects developing brains. His team studied male football players between ages 8 and 13 over the course of a season, recording “head impact data” using a Head Impact Telemetry System to measure force, which was correlated with video of games and practices.
The findings, published in the journal Radiology today, an imaging study shows that players ages 8 to 13 who have had no concussion symptoms still show changes associated with traumatic brain injury.
Co-researcher Joel Stitzel is quoted in the article as saying, “The numbers here are pretty staggering. You have fewer than 2,000 people playing in the NFL, which gets all the media attention. “But there's actually about 2,000 kids playing for every NFL player—3.5 million kids playing youth football in the U.S. About whom there is very, very little information.”
Last year researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that NFL players who had begun playing football before age 12 had a higher risk of altered brain development, as compared to players who started later.
Several leagues are taking concussion protocol into their own hands, along with the teams. In hockey, in-arena spotters will continue to monitor games, but added power has been given to referees and a team of spotters working from the NHL’s Player Safety room in an attempt to remove potentially concussed players from action.
If football referees think a player may have suffered a head trauma, the referee can walk the player back to the sidelines for concussion protocol without waiting for the team to decide. And US Youth Soccer has a five-step process for officials to follow to judge if a concussion has occurred and what action needs to be taken next.
As we’ve discussed here before, Pop Warner and USA Football both have made great strides in teaching coaches how to teach their players to play the game in a safer manner. Football never will be an injury-free sport—hardly any sport is. And it’s up to every family and parent whether their kids will play the game. But information on injury—and how to spot one—is a powerful tool for parents, coaches and event organizers alike.