Well Being

Ouch: Big Brain Damage In Small Hits To High School Football Players

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Tom Brady as a high school football player

Yesterday, the nation gathered in living rooms and sports bars for the Super Bowl. And while we may have witnessed some small injuries (like Tom Brady‘s shoulder trouble following a sack), for many of the players, the damage has already been done–long before they were playing in the NFL. Because, according to a study by researchers at Purdue, high school football players are doing more harm to their cranium and brain than previously thought–and it's the little hits that do it.

Purdue's research, which is the first to look at the collective damage done by consistent, small blows to the head–like the kind that football players rack up, from age 12 until they retire from the League–provided staggering evidence that, overall, many seemingly-minor hits at a young age may do more overall damage to brain function than a single concussion or other more-serious head injury.

Unfortunately, the researchers admit, the information in the study doesn't offer any straightforward answers for parents, because there's no way to know whether or not their children will be seriously injured playing a game that they may love. Is it a fair trade? Should high schoolers, who are still growing, be permitted to play football at all?

Even without clear answers, the study is important not just because the findings are scary, but because of the age that the researchers focused one–high schoolers. Plenty of people are worried about the brain health of adult players in the NFL–this article by Malcolm Gladwell is enough to make you consider whether or not pro ball should even be legal, and this one by TheGloss editor Jennifer Wright is similarly disturbing –but fewer are concerned about the impact of football during the teenage years.

Especially considering how necessary football is to the success of some young people growing up without means. Because, for many students who may have no way to pay for college, sports scholarships are the best options, financially-speaking. But health-wise, they're basically signing a short-term contract with long-term physical and mental repercussions. Even if they do make it through college ball and into the League, many will never receive any guidance with their finances, leaving them without critical life skills, or the ability to take care of themselves if their injuries do, in fact, amount to something quite serious.

I'm certainly not innocent when it comes to the potentially harmful spectacle of football. I've written before about how I actually really love the game–even if I think it's pretty bogus that there's no actual female league–because I find the athleticism required to be really inspirational. But when thinking about it in this light, it's kind of sad. 11 men, one field–and dozens of tiny, brain-injuring knocks that may add up to serious consequences later in life.

Image: Tom Brady as a high school football star, courtesy of the Boston Globe