Saturday, November 17, 2012

Should Football Be Banned?

A New Hampshire school board member says that he wants to ban football in his district. Paul Butler, a retired surgeon and first-term board member for the Dover school district, says that the risks of injury in the sport are too great. "I think it's bad to take this away I certainly do. But it's worse to let it continue." [1]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t just call football a contact sport. The medical group also refers to it as a collision sport, because participants routinely slam into each other or into the ground.

AAP released updated guidelines in 2010 on dealing with head injuries in children, recommending that some student-athletes retire from football after multiple concussions or if symptoms from a concussion last longer than three months.

The National Federation of State High School Associations is the rule-making body for many high school sports and activities. According to NFHS's web site, research shows that students who participate in “more vigorous sports,” including football, do better than their peers in some subjects, including math and science.

The organization says it recognizes the significance of brain injuries in sports. "The NFHS has been the leader among national sports organizations in establishing guidelines to deal with concussions," the organization says on its web site. NFHS says that more than 200,000 people have taken its online course on concussions, which can be accessed for free at

Dr. Butler, who played football in high school and college, said that he's concerned about potential lawsuits over football injuries. "My worry is that if we have this information.... about how dangerous concussions are, and we continue to fund the program, it seems to me that we are encouraging something that is morally and ethically wrong. It could put a school at financial risk so we don't have enough money to educate the children," Dr. Butler said.

Concussions in football are “the hottest topic in sports parenting today,” according to former Sports Illustrated writer Rick Wolff who has a radio show in New York City that focuses on sports and parenting.

That’s been true for two years amid nonstop media reports about former NFL players’ deteriorating health and lawsuits against the NFL. Concussions are getting most of the attention, but the sport as a whole is being scrutinized. Is it more dangerous now than it used to be?

“The whole issue of concussion has reached greater heights,” says Dr. Karen Breach, the immediate past president of the North Carolina Pediatric Society. “I know I’m making diagnoses of concussion much more often than I did 10 years ago, or even five years ago, and I’m not hesitant to use the word or keep the kid out of the sport longer or at all.”

That doesn’t mean more kids are suffering concussions, but that they are visiting their doctors about them more. More diagnoses means more discussion of the issue, and more discussion of the issue means more diagnoses.

Former NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion quarterback Kurt Warner said last summer he didn’t want his kids to play football.  Warner suffered several concussions during his playing career so he knows what the consequences and short-term effects can have on a fully developed man.  It’s scary to think of what the long-term effects would have on still developing children.

Bryan Hinkle plans to do with his own 7-year-old son what his parents did with him: Keep him out of tackle football until he reaches 9th grade. It worked out for Hinkle—he played in the NFL for 12 seasons with the Steelers.

Hinkle’s son plays flag football in Pittsburgh, for now. He won’t be eligible for tackle football for two more years. “It’s not just concussions. Football is a violent sport,” Hinkle says. “There’s a lot of issues with football, period. You’ve got to figure, is it worth your son playing, he might blow a knee out, or get an ankle injury, let alone a concussion.”

As a former NFL player, Hinkle knows the physical dangers of the sport. He suffered three concussions and had six surgeries while he played. His health is good some days, not so much on others. He has arthritis and back problems. No father would wish that pain on his son. But Hinkle also doesn’t want to over-react to every danger that presents itself. [2]

Jim Thompson sees opportunity in all the attention being paid to concussions and football. He founded Positive Coaching Alliance 14 years ago after being appalled at the “win at all costs” coaching mentality he saw when his kids played sports.

“Preventing kids from getting concussions has always been a very important issue. Now the spotlight is on it,” he says. “We should take advantage of that. Let’s do everything we can to make kids safer so they can compete safely, not get rid of football.”

Dr. Tina Master is a pediatrician in Philadelphia who was featured in Head Games, a documentary about concussions that is available online and in theaters. Her son plays on a hockey team coached by former NHL player Keith Primeau, who was forced to retire because of repeated concussions.

“I think there is so much good that comes from contact and collision sports especially if you have boys. For a boy, I think there’s a real role for contact sports in a controlled, safe environment,” she said. “I would absolutely not say get rid of checking hockey or tackle football or whatever, at all, as the answer to what’s going on right now.”

But the status quo isn’t the answer, either.

“There are great things about football that we need to preserve. And then there are aspects that need to be changed because of changing times,” she says. “If you’re playing football starting when you’re 5, if you can only sustain so many hits, you don’t want to use them up by the time you’re 12. I have kids who retire from football when they’re 12. It’s crazy. I want my kids to play football for as long as they want, for a lifetime, for fun.”


·      Have a pre-season health and wellness evaluation
·      Perform proper warm-up and cool-down routines
·      Consistently incorporate strength training and stretching
·      Hydrate adequately to maintain health and minimize cramps
·      Stay active during summer break to prepare for return to sports in the fall
·      Wear properly fitted protective equipment, such as a helmet, pads, and mouth guard
·      Tackle with the head up and do not lead with the helmet
·      Speak with a sports medicine professional or athletic trainer if you have any concerns about football injuries or football injury prevention strategies [3]

Sport Specialization for Young Athletes

I will wrap it up by referencing two topics that were touched on in the above article that I would shamelessly highlight to promote the mission of keeping kids in the game for life.  12 year NFL veteran Brian Hinkle did not start playing tackle football until he was in the 9TH grade!  So much for early specialization being the only route to the pros and trust me his case is far from rare rather it’s much closer to the norm. Highlight number two, courtesy of the Philadelphia pediatrician Dr. Master.  If your body has only some many “bullets” in it why would we want our kids to use them all up by the age of 12?

What a growing and maturing body needs in order to remain injury free and develop optimal athletic skill is variety. With respect to training, this amounts to NOT having a hyper-focus on making a young athlete a better football player by only doing exercises in the gym that the NFL players would do. The strongest and fastest athletes in any sport are the ones who had the greatest diversity of training while they were young.

The end result is an athlete who is happier, healthier, and ultimately more effective when the significance of sport participation begins to increase during the teen years.

That said I would encourage parents and coaches to analyze the sport exposures of the children under their care with a critical eye. While attempting to win the little league championship may seem like a wonderful goal, it should never come at the cost of what is best for the athlete's long-term development.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids accelerate brain healing?

17-year-old Bobby Ghassemi, a former high school football player who was left in a coma after a devastating car accident, regained his health after physicians administered high-dose omega-3 fats through a feeding tube.

Your brain is 60 percent fat and DHA (docosahexanoic acid, a type of omega-3 fat) alone makes up about 15 percent to 20 percent of your brain's cerebral cortex; it's found in high levels in your neurons -- the cells of your central nervous system, where it provides structural support.

Animal studies as well as another documented case in a coal miner with severe brain damage suggest omega-3 fats are highly beneficial for helping to trigger the brain’s healing process after traumatic brain injury.

Despite the apparent benefits, high-dose omega-3 therapy is still considered an “unorthodox” treatment for traumatic brain injury, and is not routinely ordered as a standard of care; if a family member suffers from a traumatic brain injury, you may have to be their advocate to have this treatment administered. [4]

Omega-3 fatty acids have generally been accepted as highly beneficial but what does the science really say and why are some health and nutrition experts divided on the subject?  I will cover this in some detail next week.

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