Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why I stopped watching football

Despite a long love of watching and playing football, I stopped watching the game as evidence of brain injuries associated with playing the game mounted.   In addition to the moral issue of watching a game where economically disadvantaged youth make gambles to "make it big", I wondered whether my son might ever want to play and my future response.

Despite a heightened awareness of brain injuries in the sport, I plan on strongly advising against playing the organized game.  In addition to the concussion problem the press popularized for more than 10 years, its becoming clear that we have a poor understanding of what leads to brain injury and that repeated hits to the head appear to cause changes in the brain without any clinical evidence of a concussion.

To quickly summarize the statement above and the presentation in this video, high school football players had their helmets wired to measure blows to the head.  Over two seasons, players were monitored during games by researchers at Purdue and periodically performed cognitive tests while undergoing MRIs.  Players that suffered clinical concussions as well as those that registered many helmet hits without a clinical concussion, described as subconcussive hits, had similar brain changes during the season.

In other words, those with lots hits without a concussion had brains like those we know had (minor) brain damage.

In the end, it seemed somewhat hypocritical to watch and enjoy a game but (potentially) tell my son that I had serious qualms about him playing the sport.  If he makes a compelling argument, I might still say yes; I think one needs to let them lead their own lives with some guidance.   However, no longer watching might give my argument greater credence and be more persuasive.  That possibility is worth more than watching the game.