It’s no secret that the head trauma players are exposed to in contact sports, particularly football and boxing, puts them at greater risk for CTE, a degenerative disease of the brain that is only able to be diagnosed through an autopsy. According to the Mayo Clinic, those with CTE often have memory loss, impulse control problems, depression and eventual dementia. In severe cases of CTE, the individual can show signs of other diseases such as ALS and Alzheimer’s.
With this information, I can’t understand why we, as a society, have not taken a stance against youth playing contact sports that put their future health in danger.
Look at the case of former NFL fullback Kevin Turner who died in March 2016 at the age of 46. On Nov. 3, researchers from the Boston University CTE Center announced their findings that Turner died from advanced stages of CTE and not from ALS, which he was previously diagnosed with. According to an article published by the Boston University Medical Center, this was the most severe case of CTE researchers had seen in a patient who died in his 40s. They believe that this was a result of Turner’s two season career in the NFL and the age at which he started playing tackle football: five.
This research supplements a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, which found that males who play amateur contact sports in their youth are more susceptible to CTE. According to ESPN, a total of 1.23 million kids ages 6-12 played tackle football in 2015. Youth sports themselves are not bad. They encourage teamwork, exercise and self-discipline. But there are plenty of sports that don’t put the future of the children who play them at risk. There are even sports like flag football that can help players develop the skills they need to play tackle football when they are at a more appropriate age, which, according to the Clay Center for Healthy Minds, is high school.
Of course, athletes of other sports can also develop CTE, but not to the same extent as in full contact sports. The Boston University CTE Center recorded a case of CTE in an individual who is only 18 years old. Therefore, it is not appropriate for youth to play contact sports.
The NFL has acknowledged the connection between head trauma and the development of CTE but we really can’t expect them to do much about it since so little is known about the disease. Parents and society need to be proactive in protecting the lives of amateur and professional athletes for the years to come. No child should be put into a contact sport until they are at least in high school.