The Real Facts About Youth Football Concussions

“My son deserves to be heard, if only from his grave.” With those words, Kimberly Archie affirmed her commitment to raise public awareness about the life-altering risks of youth football. Her statement to the New York Post came after a Los Angeles Judge cleared the way for a lawsuit against the youth football organization, Pop Warner, filed on behalf of Archie and another California mom, Jo Cornell. Both of these plaintiffs lost their sons, who had played with Pop Warner, and had been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Trend toward litigation against football organizations

Archie and Cornell overcame the attempt by Pop Warner to have the lawsuit dismissed late in 2017, and now they are seeking class action status. But neither woman is claiming that their sons died on the football field, but rather that they both died as a result of the long-term effects of football-induced CTE. Archie’s son, Paul Bright, died at age 24 in a motorcycle accident. Archie alleges that his dangerous behavior on the motorcycle was caused by CTE. Cornell’s son, Tyler, also died in 2014. He was 25 when he committed suicide, which Cornell alleges was the result of the depression and mood swings known to be caused by CTE.

What exactly is CTE and how is it related to concussions?

It’s common knowledge now that concussions are dangerous, and multiple concussions are downright scary. It’s even becoming more commonly known that playing football is linked to concussions, which can lead to CTE—a degenerative brain disease—thanks to the tireless efforts of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first identified the disease and has fought the NFL ever since.

The pathophysiology of CTE involves the accumulation of clumps of Tau proteins in the brain, which slowly spread throughout the brain and kill brain cells. The symptoms can be identified as early as adolescence, but usually appear in the late 20s or 30s. Some of the most common symptoms are emotional and behavioral in nature, including problems with impulse control, aggression, depression, and paranoia. Later, impaired judgment, confusion, memory loss, and progressive dementia occur.

Current scientific research concludes that CTE is most likely caused by repeated blows to the head, including multiple concussions and sub-concussive impacts. Sub-concussive impacts are brain injuries that do not cause concussions. These are particularly worrisome in youth football because, unlike a concussion, players with sub-concussive impacts aren’t necessarily identified and treated.

Are football helmets hurting more than they’re helping?

Football is a quintessential American sport, but many experts, including Dr. Omalu, are calling for an end to tackle football in youth sports. They argue that it just isn’t possible to make the sport safe enough, and that head injuries in young children are even more likely to lead to long-term problems because the brain is still developing.

Some experts think that, far from preventing concussions, football helmets are making them more prevalent. This is because the helmet gives players a false sense of security, and makes them less cautious about hits to the head. What’s worse, they don’t actually prevent concussions. This bears repeating, because it’s one of the most damaging and enduring myths about football safety. Brain injuries occur when the brain shifts within the skull, and strikes the interior wall of the skull.

There is nothing a football helmet can do to prevent this. As a result, 47 children died from 2013 to 2016 playing football.

What can parents do?

Each family must make their own decision about whether to let their kids play football. This decision should be made with careful consideration of current scientific research, and with close examination of the safety protocols of the individual youth organization.

For parents of kids who have already sustained serious injuries on the field, it may be time to raise your voice and raise awareness of the inherent risks of the sport. When you’re ready to explore options through the legal system, the Long Island brain injury lawyers at Edelman, Krasin & Jaye are here to help you and your family. Call 1.800.469.7429 to request confidential assistance today.

Additional resources about football-related concussions

  1. The Atlantic, Football Alters the Brains of Kids as Young as 8,
  2. The Mercury News, ‘Concussion’ doctor: Youth football is child abuse,
  3. New York Post, Judge Oks Trial for Brain-Injury Suit Against Pop Warner,
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