JACKSON, MI – Two stories about brain injury in high school sports were published last week in the Citizen Patriot, and they made me think about men my age.
“All this mollycoddling will weaken school sports programs,” say men my age. “No one cared about concussions when we played.”
The second part is very true.
We called concussions “getting your bell rung.” At my school, coaches administered smelling salts and considered us cured when we could name the day of the week.
My bell was once rung so hard during a football game that smelling salts did no good. Fans in the visitors’ section taunted me mercilessly for walking on wobbly legs to the locker room with my father, and soon I was surprised to find myself vomiting profusely. That’s all I ever remembered about it.
“When can he play football again?” my father asked our family doctor.
“If he were my son, he’d never play again,” Doc said. “He has a brain injury.”
Dad and I ignored that medical advice, but people have known for decades that concussions must be dangerous. We simply did not care.
Today we understand details of the risk too scary to ignore.
We know brain disease kills many relatively young NFL retirees, and the disease is caused by repeated blows to the head, including blows not strong enough to cause concussions.
We still do not know how much or how little head trauma causes permanent damage, and we do not know if every brain can handle the same amount.
Studies found concussions are almost twice as likely for football players in high school than for college players. Girl soccer and basketball players in high school are about equally as likely as male college football players to suffer concussions.
Those statistics are alarming because we have no idea how many head blows are “safe.” Parents who decide they do not want their children to start down that path at all are not mollycoddling.
At minimum, our towns and schools should question the wisdom of encouraging little boys to start playing tackle football in third grade, or earlier.
Men my age who fear high-school sports programs will be weakened should ask themselves one question.
— Contact Brad Flory at firstname.lastname@example.org