While some have questioned the Bears’ decision to pull Jay Cutler in Sunday night’s game against the New York Giants, our Chicago brain injury attorneys applaud coach Lovie Smith and the Bears for their decision to put safety first. By doing so, the Bears not only increased the chances that Cutler will make a full recovery and be available to guide the Bears for the remainder of the season, but also used their nationally-televised platform to set a positive example for college, high school, and youth leagues across the country. These benefits far outweigh a single loss on the Bears’ record.
Unfortunately, airing right alongside the Bears’ shining example was the NFL’s own poor one: a recurring promotional spot, the “tiny football league” (by Toyota, in connection with its partnership with the NFL to sponsor Sunday Night Football), depicting very young children playing full-pads tackle football, and encouraging “pee-wee” tackle football leagues to enter the league and win prize money.
Our traumatic brain injury attorneys are not surprised to see the NFL setting a poor example on concussion safety issues. We have previously spoken out on the NFL’s consistent refusal to take brain safety seriously – from failing to require two-sided mouthguards, which dramatically reduce concussion risk, to enacting only weak gameday concussion policies and then looking the other way when even those rules are bent or ignored.
For example, in the week 1 game against the Packers, viewers saw Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley weave, collapse, and stumble off the field after a blow to the head, visibly suffering from a concussion. Yet he was back on the field four minutes later, supposedly cleared to return by a physician who had seen neither the hit nor the collapse. And the NFL did nothing.
Certainly, the NFL continues to make grand gestures in the name of concussion safety. Our Chicago brain injury lawyers reported earlier this year that the NFL made a generous donation to fund brain injury research. And the NFL recently announced a partnership with youth football leagues to promote brain injury awareness among peewee players. But all the money and talk in the world cannot undo the poor example being set on the field each week.
Yes, NFL players are professionals, who are free to wear mouthguards if they choose, and to refuse medical treatment and live with the consequences. But these professionals are emulated by collegiate, high school, and peewee players — i.e. children – nationwide. For the sake of these children, we cannot allow the NFL to continue to blatantly disregard basic brain injury safety.
A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that sports-related concussions among children twelve and younger are on the rise. The research was published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, and found that sports-related concussions in children 8 to 12 years old actually doubled in the past decade.
That concussion rate, in turn was highest in football and ice hockey. Surprisingly, the study found that overall participation in organized sports in this age group declined during this period, making the simultaneous rise in concussion rates and in the popularity of youth contact football leagues particularly telling. And the study’s authors believe that the report significantly underestimated the rate of concussions and traumatic brain injury in this age group, as it did not include concussions not treated at an emergency room.
So why the increase? Well, improper concussion safety training and enforcement are certainly part of the problem. Coaches, particularly at the youth and high school level, are simply not receiving the necessary training to identify and respond to traumatic brain injuries. In addition, the culture of “toughness” (as exemplified by the NFL), leads coaches to encourage or demand athletes to return to play in spite of signs of brain injury.
While even one such occurrence can have serious consequences, the more times it happens, the more likely it is that the young athlete will suffer permanent damage. If your child has been encouraged to play after receiving a blow to the head, our brain injury attorneys encourage you to contact his school or league and demand training and a change in policy.
But beyond proper training in prevention and response, the activities themselves are also to blame: children under the age of 12 simply should not be participating in high-contact activities such as tackle football. Viable alternatives such as flag football are available, and will teach children about and allow them to enjoy the game without exposing them to an unacceptable risk of life-altering brain injury while their brains are still developing.
Perhaps this seems extreme, especially by those enjoying the huge surge of football popularity in the past decade. But medical research has shown that the brain case does not finish forming until 12 years of age. This leaves children 12 and under more susceptible to concussions and other traumatic brain injury, and also means that these children suffer more severe and long-lasting effects from concussions and brain injury.
Indeed, experts now believe that many of the concussions and brain injury currently being diagnosed in high school and college athletes are in fact the after-effects of brain injury sustained in childhood, particularly in youth tackle football. And we are now learning that repeated concussions and other brain trauma may in fact be responsible for more life-altering and fatal problems than previously realized, as they have been misdiagnosed in athletes and others as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Congress heard testimony this past week, in the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor, on the issue of concussions and brain injury in youth sports. Our Chicago brain injury attorneys urge our nation’s legislators – both federal and state – to do more than talk, and to take action on this issue. Much heartache, and even lost lives, could be avoided if our nation’s youngsters were limited to age-appropriate activities, and their coaches were properly trained in concussion safety.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago brain injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.