District Administration March 2018 - 74

ProfessionalOpinion
Should there be a moratorium
on high school football?
Protecting players from brain injury must take precedence
By Mark A. Serva

W

ith the latest season of high
school football concluded,
now is perhaps an ideal
time to consider whether or not there
should be another. The game's big
hits generate excitement, but a growing body of research indicates that the
human brain is not equipped to absorb
such violent impacts. Microscopic tears
and plaque (dubbed chronic traumatic
encephalopathy, or CTE) gradually
diminish the capacity of players' brains.
Early symptoms include dizziness and
confusion, which can eventually progress to memory loss, tremors, speech
impediments and even dementia.
The research
This past summer, researchers at Boston
University studied the brains of former
high school, college and NFL players. The sample was small and biased
toward higher levels of CTE, but the
results were disconcerting nonetheless.
Out of 111 pro players, all but one
had severe cases of CTE. In addition,
severe CTE was present in 91 percent
of the athletes who played football only
in high school and college. One study
author commented, "That means they
most likely retired before the age of 25,
and we still are seeing in some of those
individuals very severe repercussions."
The study's findings also indicate
that playing only high school football
can result in cognitive impairment.
One out of 5 high school players in

DAmag.me/football
74 March 2018

School administrators
should set an example
by relying on scientific
evidence-not public
pressure-to make
difficult policy decisions.
the study had CTE. In addition, the
researchers found high levels of depression, memory loss and even behavioral
impairments among athletes who had
even mild cases of CTE.
Over half reported suicidal
thoughts-in fact, the most common
cause of death for the mild CTE cases
was suicide. And players who started
playing before the age of 12 were significantly more likely to exhibit cognitive
damage than those who started later.
When ... if at all?
These findings suggest that there may
be no safe amount of time for children
and teenagers to play tackle football.
To promote the well-being of our
young adults, there can be only one
conclusion: Public school districts must
suspend their financial and moral support of tackle football until the sport
can be demonstrated to be safe.
Even professional players are urging
caution. Drew Brees, the New Orleans
Saints quarterback, allows his kids to
play only flag football, given the evidence. Tom Brady's father has said he
isn't sure he would have let his son play
if he knew how dangerous the sport is.
Players are increasingly retiring be-

fore the age of 30 to mitigate the cumulative damage. As Mark Murphy, president of the Green Bay Packers, recently
said, "Participation [in youth football]
has dropped, and there's concern among
parents about when is the right age to
start playing tackle, if at all."
Taking action
The quick rebuttal is to discount the
Boston University study, given its small
sample size and likely bias. Some of
your school's alumni will undoubtedly
be up in arms and point out that everything in life has risks. Others will say
the evidence is lacking and we should
not take action until more is known.
But these arguments miss the point.
More work into the causes and repercussions of CTE needs to be done, but
the study's findings demand that we
err on the side of caution. Inaction will
simply expose teenagers to continued
risk of injury.
School administrators should set
an example by relying on scientific
evidence-not public pressure-to
make difficult policy decisions. And, of
course, our schools have a moral obligation to nurture students' cognitive development-not to promote an outlet
that potentially damages it.
Until science can provide more insights into the nature of CTE, the benefit of the doubt must favor the safety
of our students. Such an action puts
science and the safety and well-being of
children first. DA
Mark A. Serva is an education consultant
and an associate professor at the University
of Delaware.
District Administration


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration March 2018

District Administration March 2018 - Cover1
District Administration March 2018 - Cover2
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