Concussions, Football and You

Are the new studies about concussions, the new reports (Sonjay Gupta, for instance), and the recent revelations of football players who seemingly committed suicide as a result of football injuries (Dave Duerson, Junior Seau) … are these making you rethink or even have a conclusion about permitting your son/s play football?

Jonathan Anker:

When I heard about Junior Seau’s stunningly tragic suicide at just 43 years old the other day, I couldn’t help but immediately wonder what toll the game Seau loved and dominated may have played in his death. To be clear, there is absolutely no proof or even indication right now that the cumulative effect of all Seau’s gridiron collisions contributed to any kind of depressive thoughts or degenerative mental condition. We don’t know why he killed himself. We may never know.

But we do know it’s happened in other instances. After former Chicago Bears standout Dave Duerson committed suicide last year, an analysis of his brain revealed he suffered from a trauma-induced disease found in at least 20 other football players who have passed away, according to the Sports Legacy Institute.

Former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters was 44 when he killed himself in 2006. Studies found his brain, according to Sports Illustrated, “resembled what one would expect in an 85-year-old man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.”

Knowing this, and knowing how prevalent and often undiagnosed concussions are at even the lower levels of football (to say nothing of all the other serious injuries accepted as ‘just a part of the game’ in football), why would any parent choose to enlist their child to join these ranks? To volunteer them to have their head smacked around inside a plastic cage? Children have been playing tackle football for generations, yes, but only recently have we become aware of what it’s doing to them.

“You know, there are other sports out there.”

Committing suicide is of course an extreme and relatively rare outcome for football-related trauma, but how many other serious issues pop-up among football players — of any age — for having taken all these shots to the head? How many cases of depression? How many instances of memory loss or other declining cognitive functions? Or even debilitating migraines?


"I'm glad you ended your piece as you did, because I was wondering why you ..."

What Women Want (Leslie Leyland Fields)
"I've been wondering if the vision of the church isn't simply Jesus. If vision means ..."

Pastor As Midwife (Mike Glenn)
"Thank you Betty for your stand and willingness to share the difficulties you have faced, ..."

Willow Elder Of 30 Years Talks
"I agree with Scot's thoughts, and I think they are stories not just worth telling, ..."

Willow Elder Of 30 Years Talks

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • IMO the one change in football over the last 50 years that has increased its destructive nature is the facemask. It was designed to protect against broken noses and facial cheek bones but it’s result has been to allow the utilization of the head as the point of attack much more than before face mask were prevalent. Everyone who has played sandlot tackle football realize that you don’t attack with the head leading but you use your arms and shoulders to bring people down. It’s a different game than we see now and my prediction is that is where football will have to make adjustments in order to protect against head tramu. Won’t elimante it, but will drastically reduce it IMO.

  • The real question is quickly becoming whether it is moral to watch and support a sport that will lead to the early death of many good men over time.

  • DRT

    Absolutely. This definitely has changed my mind about what sports I would like my relatives to play in. But there is little to no chance that my boys would ever want to play a sport that actually involved running so I don’t have to worry about that.

    I worry about our society outlawing anything physical though. There are many sports and activities where a potential outcome is death, including just driving to work.

  • jamie

    Well, it has not changed my opinion. If my boy wants to play football he can play football. I played all through college and am fine. There is a vast difference between high school and pro ball (in terms of speed and size of the game), and chances are my boys not going pro! Football is a great game.

  • Robin

    I was disturbed by how quickly everyone wanted to blame Seau’s suicide on football. I mean, he probably suffered concussions, but he has absolutely no history of recorded concussions. We don’t know what was going on in his home, with his businesses, with his personal finances. I have no idea why he committed suicide, and neither does anyone else, yet football was immediately ruled the culprit. I wish people would wait for at least a few facts before drawing that conclusion.

    That said, I don’t need football biopsies to know what happens when you take repeated blows to the head. I live in Louisville and several times a year they cart out Muhammad Ali at sporting events as he stares off into the skies.

    My son won’t play football, at least not until he is at least 16 or so and I start treating him like an adult and letting him make serious decisions. I am also nervous about the possibility of him playing soccer. It doesn’t get as much coverage but the repeated blows from heading the ball also cause minor damage to the brain, just like repeated helmet strikes in football that don’t lead to concussions still do damage.

  • I love the game ! Efforts are being made to protect from head injuries . Players worry most about knees . Their are great life lessons learned from the game and preparation.

    Dr. Charles Hughes
    Pastor for Prayer
    Campus Pastors Office

  • EricW

    I think both boxing and football should be banned. :p

  • I AM TOTALLY OPPOSED TO FOOTBALL MY SONS NEVER HAD A FOOTBAll and never played. my grand sons and great grand sons and gently guided to other sports. All NFL locker rooms have a warning posted.. ( ie football concussions distrait your brain)..We ned to work to get ouR universities out of the footyball business. college foot ball is a professionals sportr and a big money GAME FOR THE UNIVERSES. most 59 yo pro players are senile dementia. this is all old news to those of us in medicine and i am glad it is hitting the blogs. Football is a barbaric sport I attended many high school kids who were quadriplegia from a cervical fracture. it also encourages obesity and death from those associated diseases Parents are afraid their kid will be gay if the do not buy him helmet and solder pads by the time he is in the second grade Jamie brags above that he is fine he did not break his neck or suffer brain injury. he could be senile by the time he is 69. if he is honest will bet he can remember that long silent time as a player was carried of the field quadriplegic. never to walk or breath on his own. the Romans had gladiators and lion dens the used to feel slaves Sam Tickle md

  • I’m expecting my first son in 5 weeks and I pray he doesn’t want to play sports! I don’t understand how teaching a young person to work together with his peers to dominate other groups of people teaches anything of value 🙂

  • Football is a great game and there are many life lessons from that sport and others requiring both individual and collective and integrated skills. But aren’t all of these changing in focus, so that the lessons now trend to how to hurt an opposing player than how to have team unity? If we need to think about keeping our children out of football, or any other supposedly “non-violent” sport, perhaps it is time to rethink football. High-schoolers are not “Pro’s,” but would you want your child be the one who, 20 years from now, gets the public attention to the effects of brain injuries sustained at a susceptible age 20 years prior? Yes, that could happen in anything, but if you knew about it, doesn’t that change the responsibility? We are getting some pretty strong clues. But is football the real issue? If it is time to rethink our kids playing football, and if it is time to rethink football, what else can that mean but — isn’t it time to rethink the values in our society and what value of leadership is church providing, or not providing?

  • DRT

    Scot, we should do a survey like Sam Tickle MD 4:32pm says. Would you rather your kids be gay or play football. Wow.

  • DRT

    Some statistics that seem legitimate

    Concussion rates are increasing in high school sports.

    The current rates per 100,000 athletic exposures (an AE is one athlete participating in one organized high school athletic practice or competition, regardless of the amount of time played), according to the two most recent studies1,8 are as follows:
    Football: Between 601 and 76.88
    Girl’s soccer: Between 338 and 351
    Boys’ lacrosse: Between 301 and 46.68
    Girls’ lacrosse: Between 201 and 318
    Boys’ soccer: Between 171 and 19.28
    Boys’ wrestling: Between 171 and 23.98
    Girls’ basketball: Between 161 and 18.68
    Softball: Between 111 and 16.38
    Boys’ basketball: Between 111 and 21.28
    Girls’ field hockey: Between 101 and 24.98
    Cheerleading: 11.58
    Girls’ volleyball: Between 51 and 8.68
    Boys’ baseball:Between 4.68 and 61

  • jamie

    Sam tickle, give your contact info and ill get a hold of you in 30 and let you know how I’m doing ;).

  • JohnM

    DRT – The statistics might be legitimate, but I don’t understand them as presented. If anything is increasing I wonder if it is the rate of occurence or the rate of diagnosis, i.e. it may be no higher than before, but now we know.

  • Warren Schatz

    Hockey parents are having the same discussion, with same problems; 3 or 4 pro hockey players have killed themselves in just last 2 years, and more and more links to brain damage are being shown; I watch both sports a lot, not sure which is worse; hockey seems more violent (they have sticks to use too!) but some of those collisions are staggering. Mind you, I watched the NASCAR race today and saw them airlift a driver to hospital after severe crash. It is one thing for participants to take risks but some days I worry over my moral decision to watch people hurt, maim or kill each other in ‘games.’

  • Michael

    A coach, a former player, a chaplain for football teams both HS and college. Let’s stick to the real topics, drugs, fatherlessness, drinking & texting while driving to name a few that have a much bigger impact than football. Come on man

  • Can’t find the link on NPR (many related links, there) of an interesting report I think on Morning Edition, I heard sometime back. Doctor or some some professional, maybe a scientist, was doing study on the impact of football on the brain, and what can be done about it. And he opted to let his son play football. His approach was to try to work at solving the problem, while acknowledging (I think) the good in football, or at least the fun his son had from playing it.

    I would like to take that approach, and being from Ohio, I guess I’m typical of many there, football is big. But I have to admit, I have grown a bit care-less about it, given all the money in it, with scandals. And the violence, I’m not at all keen about, for more than one reason, but this being a major one, to be sure.

    But we need more like the one I mention above, and I hope they can change some of the rules to lower the risk of head trauma.

  • jamie

    i agree with micheal…

    and we better get rid of girls soccer too…seems dangerous.

  • derek

    An interesting study would be to compare head injury rates between NFL Football and top level Rugby. They are both tackle sports. One with helmets and one without.

  • Kenton

    I’m a Texan, therefore I LOVE football. Really love it.

    That said, I’m asking the same question Jeff Cook asks (2:53), and I’m not sure I can honestly say that it is moral.

    FWIW, Intelligence Squared is hosting a debate this Tuesday on this very subject. Malcolm Gladwell is participating. (I would never want to argue with him.)

    Gladwell’s 2009 article on the subject is MUST reading:

  • Heather

    The trickle down effect has happened quickly and you even see it in the pee wee leagues. As a non sports person married to a sports person, this has been a topic of discussion for some time. We have decided not to encourage football not only for safety reasons, but to encourage a variety of activities that they might enjoy.

  • Timothy

    Being a Brit, I thought the reference to football referred to what Americans call soccer. In ‘soccer’ there is a problem with brain damge caused not by concussion but through repetitive blows to the head that do NOT result in concussion. Heading a football, or simple clashes of heads by two players trying to head the ball at the same time is simply part of the game. Often it is not the major blows that create the longterm damage but the minor blows repeated many times.
    The comparison with boxing is interesting in two respects. First, although there are occasions when catastrophic injury is caused by head blows causing bleeding on the brain, these are not that common. But universal is the damage caused by the ordinary everyday punches repeated everyday. And this is the damage that constitutes the best argument against boxing.
    The other issue is the unexpected reults of measures taken to protect contestants. We used to have bareknuckle boxing. The terrible injuries suffered were so gruesome that gloves were introduced. The change that this brought about was a sharp reduction in the visible facial injuries but an increase in the invisible brain damage. In the same way, it is possible that the armour, including not just face masks but helmets may increase injuries rather than reduce them. For thesake of American Football this should be investigated. I suspect that the growth in the protective gear worn by rugby players has greatly increased the ferocity of the tckling in that game even in the absence of helmets.