Children Are Suffering Brain Injuries from Contact Sports—And Now Parents Are Demanding Action
The age for tackle football is being raised in four states to protect athletes from traumatic brain injuries.
Former high school linebacker Brody Kieft, now 21, played football with the energy and aggression of a heat-seeking missile, which earned him cheers from the fans, interest from the college scouts, and a worrisome list of head concussions.
Kieft is from a city with a football heritage. He started playing football at the age of 6. His early years were unremarkable in terms of injuries, but things changed when he was a freshman at the high school. He said he got murdered.
The promising Crusaders freshman said he was hit under the chin by a bad guy on their team.
“The game ended for Kieft with his two sisters badly shaken and in tears, and he was put into a neck brace and taken to the hospital. He drove for 50 miles to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, with his anxious father by his side.”
Barry Kieft said he was scared in the ambulance. I was afraid. I could see that he was sick.
“Number 6 did not play another game the rest of the season because the team trainer wouldn’t show him the video of the play that knocked him out of the game.”
Before his 2013 freshman school year started, Kieft had taken a baseline test called ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test.
It assists in the screening, assessment, and management of concussions for various groups at risk, such as high school or college athletes and those who participate in sports leagues. Kieft’s results were stored in the program to serve as a baseline. Any injury he sustained later could be evaluated by taking a subsequent test, with results compared to that baseline.
“This helps an organization manage a student’s recovery after a head injury.”
“The test was based on words, memory, line patterns, colors in boxes, but you have to take it again and the doctor will compare it to your baseline test. I didn’t play that season because I didn’t get a correct number after my concussion, but that was considered a failure because I didn’t get a correct number after my concussion.”
Kieft had a quiet sophomore year. He remembers having head injuries.
“Kieft didn’t say anything about it. You just want to keep playing. Unless you say something is wrong, the coaches are focused on the plays and winning. They are not looking for those things at practice.”
The Safe Youth Football Act was announced in February by Kevin McCarty and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, two California State Assembly members.
According to the press release, the bill “will prevent young athletes from sustaining long-term brain damage caused by repetitive tackling, hitting and blocking.”
They were referring to their aim of preventing future chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease of the brain found in individuals who played contact sports with histories of blows to the head. The condition can only be diagnosed at the autopsy.
Children who play sports in their most critical years of brain development are at a higher risk for neurological impairments and chronic traumatic encephalopathy later in life. It quotes Bennet Omalu, MD, author of “Concussion,” a book on chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
There is a 100 percent risk of brain damage when children play high-impact, high-contact sports, and if you know about the risk, what should you do? You protect children.
Legislation has been introduced in Illinois, New York, and Maryland to prohibit children under the age of 18 from playing tackle football.
A new study in the medical journal Brain found that repeated hits to the head can also lead to CTE, not just the blows that produce an actual significant injury or concussion.
“Four dead teenage athletes’ brains were examined by researchers. They found that sports-related traumatic brain injuries can be caused by closed-head impact injuries, as well as early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”
The study shows that young athletes who have played contact sports in their youth are at risk for long-term neurological conditions. It suggests that impacts involving the head can cause damage to the brain.
“This may make the brain more vulnerable to the disease, which causes clumps of the brain’s brain-forming protein to spread throughout the brain and cause it to die.”
Two California mothers of athletes who had signs of the brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, are suing Pop Warner Little Scholars, the largest youth football, cheer, and dance program in the world. Jo Cornell of Rancho Bernardo, an affluent San Diego suburb, and Kim Archie of North Hollywood claim they lost their sons as a result of head injuries they sustained playing football.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2016. It accuses Pop Warner, a nonprofit tackle football organization, of failing to set the safety bar high enough to keep the 325,000 youngsters who participate each year from suffering head injuries and concussions.
Tom Girardi, the Los Angeles attorney who won the case of the woman who was poisoned, filed the lawsuit in the US District Court for the Central District of California.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez recently ruled that most of the claims in the case against Pennsylvania-based Pop Warner, including allegations of negligence and fraud claims on the grounds they misrepresented the level of safety procedures and protocols, could move forward.
“Tyler Cornell died at the age of 25 after years of mental illness. He played football until he was 17 and didn’t have any documented concussions according to the suit. The young man’s brain was given to Boston University researchers who found markers of the brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”
“Archie’s son, Paul Bright, played football for eight years. He ended his life on a motorcycle at the age of 24 and his brain was diagnosed with signs of early chronic traumatic encephalomyelitis.”
The mothers are on a mission that advocates for changes in the way football is played with limits on the amount of contact the younger players can have. They want safer helmets too.
Kieft was ready to play his junior year after working hard the summer before.
“During a hard-hitting game, a wobbly Kieft came off the field after being kicked and punched. A teammate tipped off the trainer that Kieft wasn’t looking right.”
“She didn’t let me play after the half time break. I didn’t play another year after I was sick and couldn’t pass the ImPACT concussion test.”
Kieft was sent for a test by a neurologist after his father followed up with an appointment. The report said that most test performances were within expectation, although some weaknesses were noted in certain complex cognitive functions. It was stated that Kieft\’s performance was below average in some areas, but not “necessarily impaired.” He scored above average in many of the tests, and the scores had improved from the ImPACT tests after an injury.
Kieft was allowed to play in his senior year if he played a position that minimized his injury risk. He thinks he may have suffered one or two concussions.
I had one or two concussions, but I pushed them off as headaches, said Kieft.
I would not have stopped playing football because I was worried about head injuries, I know other people who have. You want to play and win.
Kieft was recruited by many small colleges but changed his mind about attending one just a few weeks into football practice. I thought I was impervious when I was a kid, but I am not so sure now.
“Kieft’s father was aware of the tipping point between invincibility and vulnerability.”
Is the brain more fragile than others? How is it that people who have played football for a long time are fine for the rest of their lives? Barry Kieft said something.
“He said that the most amazing years of his life were spent watching his son play football. I don’t want him to have missed the experiences of playing in the championship games at Ford Field. He had tears of joy and sadness in his eyes when he could play. I was always worried about him, but now I don’t have to worry, it’s a good thing. I have never seen a happier person than him.”
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