An Open Letter to Parents of High School Football Players

High School Football Players and CTE

New research from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University has found that “87 of 91 deceased NFL players tested were found to have evidence of the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.” The study found that the prevalence of the disease is overwhelming;  96% of former players had evidence of CTE, and 79% of all players at all levels showed signs.

And yes, that includes your high school age children.

All players AT ALL LEVELS show signs of CTE

One more time; all players, at all levels. PBS reports that “CTE

[was found] in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school” (emphasis ours). That does not mean that your child is merely at an increased risk of possibly developing the disease. It means that your child is virtually guaranteed to develop symptoms of CTE if he or she plays football.

What is CTE?

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy was technically discovered in 2002, in the brain of a former football player named Mike Webster. Before that, it was called “punch drunk,” a term reserved almost exclusively for boxers. Thus, we always *knew* about CTE; we just did not have an official name for it.

There are four stages to the disease:

  • Stage One. The protein tau builds up in unconnected parts of the brain, usually around the frontal lobe or the crown. Tau can lead to irreversible brain damage by “interrupting normal functioning and eventually killing nerve cells,” according to Frontline.
  • Stage Two. As the tau affects more brain cells, you can observe changes in behavior of the afflicted person. Depression, rage and poor impulse control are common.
  • Stage Three. The tau has expanded into the temporal lobe, and begins to affect the hippocampus and amygdala. Confusion is a common result; memory loss another.
  • Stage Four. Frontline puts it best: “The brain becomes deformed and brittle, and cognitive function is severely limited. By Stage 4 tau deposits have overwhelmed the brain, killing many nerve cells and shrinking it by roughly half its size.”

This is what will happen to your children when you let them play football.

Playing with fire

If you still believe that your child will beat the odds, consider these numbers from the National Safety Council:

  • Chance of dying from heart disease, the Number 1 killer in America: 1 in 7
  • Chance of dying in a car crash: 1 in 112
  • Chance of dying from a fall: 1 in 144

Chance of a football player developing CTE: 96 out of 100.

There is one more piece of crucial information that you, as parents of high school football players, need to know: CTE cannot necessarily be diagnosed in living players. Your high school football player is likely to already have some evidence of CTE, and there is the distinct possibility that no doctor will be able to diagnose it. This has nothing to do with the quality of your doctor or the facility in which he or she works, and everything to do with the test itself. It is only possible to reach a definitive conclusion after a player has died – and by then, it is too late.

This is a real disease affecting thousands of men and women around the country. We cannot change the past, but as parents we can take steps towards securing a better future. That starts with putting an end to high school football by refusing to let our children play. As parents, it is our duty to protect our kids as best we can by making the hard decisions for them when they cannot make those decisions themselves.

Choose the future. Choose your children. Choose life.

By |September 24th, 2015|Brain Injury|Comments Off on An Open Letter to Parents of High School Football Players

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