Teenagers, Football, & Concussions: The Jovan Belcher Tragedy

Football is America’s favorite sport garnering national interest from nearly all levels of play; high school, college, and professional. The recent tragedy of Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide leaves the nation once again asking if horrible heartbreaks like this can be prevented. The spotlight returns to a surprisingly unanswered question: does the physical nature of football, specifically repeated head injuries, lead to suicidal and horrific behavior?

Playing sports and being active is an important part of a healthy adolescent life. Organized sports can instill valuable life lessons such as team work, sacrifice, hard work and self-discipline. While physical injury can occur playing any sport, football has received a lot of attention concerning concussions and its long-term effect. According to WebMd, concussions are a mild brain injury and can occur from a sudden blow or jolt to the head. The majority of concussions are not life threatening and only in rare cases may become a life-threatening condition. Symptoms of concussions include persistent headaches, drowsiness, balance problems, slurred speech, erratic thinking, and nausea.

Over the past decade there has been a growing amount of evidence linking repeated head injuries and a degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or C.T.E., an incurable disease whose symptoms include dementia, depression, and memory loss.  A recent study was carried out by the Boston University School of Medicine, who researched the brains of dead athletes and military veterans who repeatedly suffered hits to the head. The studied found that 80% of the 85 brains studied revealed C.T.E. In addition, the study revealed C.T.E. in six high school football players, nine college football players, seven pro boxers, and four N.H.L. players.

The study, however, DOES NOT prove that hits on the field definitely lead to brain injuries such as C.T.E. More research is needed to determine why some athletes develop C.T.E. and others do not. The New York Times article discussing the story makes sure to mention an increased paranoia from parents and coaches following similar studies. The co-author of the study reassures the public that not all concussions are the same and that the total amount of trauma and how they were treated following the concussion must be considered when evaluating whether an athlete is at risk for developing C.T.E.

So should you pull your son out of the football team? Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the CNN health analyst and neurosurgeon in a recent interview with Wolf Blitzer said parents should talk to coaches about limiting the amount of blows during practice and ensure that if your child does suffer a concussion that he should be allowed a full recovery before taking the field again. See the video below.

Please check with your health care provider if you believe your child might have sustained a concussion. 


01/10/2013 UPDATE: Health professionals have determined the Junior Seau, the former Miami Dolphins player who committed suicide in May of 2012, did indeed suffer from CTE. According to his family, symptoms of this brain condition included depression, insomnia, mood swings, forgetfullness, and irrationability. 

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By Miguel Brown