Last November the Salem Weekly Editorial Board called upon the Salem-Keizer School District Board and Superintendent Christy Perry to convene a committee of doctors who have expertise in neuropathology and bioethics to make recommendations about the future of football and other contact sports for students in our district.
We recommended this based upon the scientific evidence that has been mounting in recent years concerning Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, a condition caused by repeated head trauma, as is common in football and other contact sports. CTE has been found to be the cause of severe memory loss, depression, dementia and even suicide, as in the case of a number of former NFL players.
In that editorial, we quoted Dr. Bennett Omalu who is credited with the discovery of CTE. The quote bears repeating: “If a child who plays football is subjected to advanced radiological and neurocognitive studies during the season and several months after the season, there can be evidence of brain damage at the cellular level of brain functioning, even if there were no documented concussions or reported symptoms. If that child continues to play over many seasons, these cellular injuries accumulate to cause irreversible brain damage.”
Now we learn in a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on July 25th of new evidence that is even more definitive about the risks of CTE from playing football.
In the study, 202 brains of deceased football players were examined for CTE. They ranged in age from high school students through former professional players. Astonishingly, CTE was diagnosed in 87% of the brains, including all but one of the 111 former NFL players in the study.
Even among the brains of college football players, 91% were diagnosed with CTE. Among the small number of high school players, 21% were diagnosed. This evidence shows how the risk of CTE is cumulative — the more years you play and incur repeated head trauma, the more likely you are to develop CTE.
If you are a parent trying to decide whether to enroll your child in football, we think you need to think hard about this. When asked if he would let his child play football Dr. Daniel Daneshvar, one of the authors of the new study, told a reporter, “In terms of whether or not I’d let my kid play — I think in its current form, I probably wouldn’t.”
We can understand why our school board and school superintendent don’t want to address this issue like they should. Football is incredibly popular among parents and school boosters and a source of pride and school spirit. We have all heard the argument that it is football and other sports that prevent marginal students from dropping out and not getting their diplomas.
But do these reasons really outweigh the obligation to prevent our students from incurring brain damage?
Of course not. So if our school leaders will not act, we implore parents to do the right thing and steer your kids into non-contact sports and other activities besides football. We think coaches and parent boosters of football teams, and even spectators, need to stop and think about the ethics of what you are doing and what you are perpetuating.
If this happens, maybe high school football will wither and die on its own. We think the evidence is now clear that this is what must happen, so that we can end this harm to our kids.