Playing Sports? It’ll Cost Ya an Arm and a Brain

In 2009 I posted a warning blog about (mostly football) concussions. Since that time many changes have occurred. But theconcussion problem lingers—partly because it appears we have misunderstood the root cause.

In a brief update on concussions in Time (October 26, 2015, pp.23-24), Sean Gregory points to the accumulation of lesser hits to the head, rather than the single, bone-jarring hits that are obvious, as the major culprit that has led to the dismaying discovery that 87 of the 91 brains of dead NFLers exhibit CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

If it is the cumulative effect of lesser hits, Gregory concludes, then why not put a ceiling on the number of lesser hits a player suffers, such that they enter concussion protocol when they’ve reached that number? We do that for baseball—in Little League, an eight-year-old cannot pitch more than 50 in a day and must rest for two days, and an 18-year-old cannot pitch more than 105 and must rest for four days. The only difference in Little League and the majors is that the limit is required for the youngsters—games can be forfeited if the rules are violated.

Surely the protection of brains is as important as the protection of arms! The technology is available (cf. Shockbox) to count the number of hits to the head and to record the g-force (gravitational force is a measure of acceleration) for each hit. That technology needs to be installed in the helmet of every footballer regardless of age, and the rules need to be agreed on. And enforced. Gregory recommends as a beginning point that high school footballers be limited to 90 blows exceeding 20 g’s in one week, then they must rest for a period to be determined.

It costs an arm and a brain to pitch and hit without limit. That’s too great a price to pay.

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