A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times asks the same questions we have been asking: namely, should children – whose brains and bodies are still developing – be allowed to play football? It was written by Bennet Omalu, the man who discovered the link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and football. The new Will Smith movie, Concussion, is based upon Dr. Omalu’s work in this area. To say that it is an op-ed worth reading is an understatement, because no one understands the dangers as well as he does.
Dr. Omalu believes that a legal age restriction should be placed upon those who want to play football. He writes:
“The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old. We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play, and let them make their own decisions. No adult, not a parent or a coach, should be allowed to make this potentially life-altering decision for a child.
We have a legal age for drinking alcohol; for joining the military; for voting; for smoking; for driving; and for consenting to have sex. We must have the same when it comes to protecting the organ that defines who we are as human beings.”
In some ways, the argument we have been making mirrors Dr. Omalu’s, especially when it comes to not letting your children play football. CTE can have devastating effects on people who engage in contact sports, and the effects may not be apparent until much, much later in life. The traumatic contact can destroy the neurons in our brains, and as the doctor puts it, “In more than 30 years of looking at normal brain cells in the microscope, I have yet to see a neuron that naturally creates a new neuron to regenerate itself. We are born with a certain number of neurons. We can only lose them; we cannot create new neurons to replenish old or dying ones.” Once those neurons are gone, they are gone for good – and no amount of therapy or medication can bring them back.
This is not an outlier opinion
In October, we wrote about schools throughout the country that are disbanding their football teams, as a result of poor turnout for the players. Many times, the decisions are brought about by the students themselves; their parents did not forbid them to play – they simply chose not to.
It is also important to remember that football players are not the only ones at risk. All contact sports which present the opportunity to sustain a head or brain injury – boxing, mixed martial arts, hockey, rugby and even soccer, to some extent – can increase your child’s risk of developing CTE.
Permanent brain damage and a life of debilitating pain, mental confusion or personality changes are no longer hypotheticals. These are real, proven effects of CTE. It is time we put the safety of our children before tradition, and considered making football a game for adults only.
It’s time to stop choosing football. Choose the future. Choose your children. Choose life.