Young athletes growing mindful of concussion danger

Posted: February 12, 2012

The debate and discussion over concussions and their consequences have moved beyond the spotlight of professional sports. According to neurologists, that's a good thing.

In college, high school, and youth leagues, awareness is growing.

"This is one of those slow awakenings of, 'There's a real problem, there's a real danger,' " said Doug Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania.

Awareness of concussions and their lasting impact has grown among the general public in the last five years, he said. While Little League parents often worried about damaging a child's elbow from throwing too many curveballs, Smith said, "it's time to worry the same way about your head."

Robert Cantu, codirector of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University Medical School, has been researching brain injuries for 30 years. For the most part, the people listening were fellow experts. That has changed.

Cantu is due to publish a book titled Concussion and Our Kids in September.

"That book would not have been of any interest five years ago to most parents," Cantu said. "I suspect, I hope, it will be of great interest now because of the awareness of the importance of concussion."

States across the country have passed laws requiring that student-athletes be removed from games if they are suspected of having a concussion. The law bars them from returning to practice or games until cleared by a doctor. The NFL has backed the law, which has been passed in 30 states - including Pennsylvania and New Jersey - and the District of Columbia.

Concussion studies have also gone beyond contact sports such as football and hockey, Cantu said. He cited "serious concerns" about the consequences of heading the ball in soccer and a growing awareness of contact in lacrosse.

Cantu and Smith stressed that while professional athletes get the most attention, children and parents might face even more significant decisions.

"At the higher level, people are incentivized to stay in the game, and they're adults making their own decisions," Smith said, adding that professionals are paid for the dangers they face. "What troubles me the most are kids who are maybe looking to become a hero for their team."

Cantu added, "Individuals who aren't being paid need to be informed of the risk they're taking and then decide whether they want to take those risks."


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