SportStars Magazine

Head Case: The Fear Of Football

I’m all ready to play football but my mom read something in the paper about CTE and brain damage, and now she says she won’t let me play. I can’t believe it — I’ve looked forward to playing high school football since I was 8. This isn’t fair. I’m not an NFL player, and neither are the other guys. No one will get hit as hard as they do in the NFL.

— G.C., San Francisco

I hate to say this in a publication devoted to high school sports that covers football as well and thoroughly as it does, but I can’t disagree with your mom.

The study she read about concluded that 15 percent of those who played only high school football had brain damage associated with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). OK, this is not a completely scientific survey, due to the sample size and how the samples were selected, but let’s say it’s 50 percent wrong. That still means that 10 percent of high school football players will suffer brain damage.

First, think about that phrase — “brain damage” —  for a minute. You can rip up your knee and still walk around. You can hurt your shoulder and still lift things. But if your brain is damaged, not only won’t you think that well, you won’t really be the “you” you were before.

I know a guy in his early 30s who played football in high school, and as he looks back on it, he remembers taking a tremendous hit (he was a running back) that left him dizzy and confused. He came out of the game and the coaches asked if he was OK. He said “Sure,” just as almost every player would say today, especially since he was a smaller running back, and small guys never want to admit being hurt. He can’t say for sure, but he thinks that hit, plus all the other contact, affected him then and in the future, especially in terms of controlling his emotions.

Now that’s just a story, but there are a lot of them like that, and when you read the scientific reports that are coming out, it’s really scary.

And let’s go back to that 10 percent of high school players who will suffer brain damage. If there’s 40 guys on your team, that means four will wind up with brains that don’t work properly — and 36 will be fine. So it’s sort of like playing Russian roulette with your future. Odds are you’ll be OK, at least brain-wise (who knows about your knees and shoulders), but four guys on your team won’t be. Are you willing to spin the barrels on your future?

Your mom isn’t, and who can blame her? She’s lived a lot more than you have, and knows a lot more – and she understands that teenagers, especially teenage boys, can’t help but think they’re bulletproof, that it won’t happen to them.

Well, it’s going to happen to some football players, some guys know (maybe know really well), pretty much without question, and the longer you play, the worse the odds against you.

Of course, there are advantages to playing football, and if everyone in your family agrees that it’s worth the risk for you to play, then fine. But make sure you understand what the risk means, and what CTE means, and what could happen down the road. Your mom does, and that’s why she’s saying what she’s saying.

Clay Kallam has been an assistant athletic director and coached multiple sports and a handful of high schools throughout the Bay Area. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at clayk@fullcourt.com

2 Comments

  1. Casey Kester

    August 7, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    It might be valuable for folks to watch something that might really help the discussion – https://youtu.be/ib5KBd9AEeg?list=PLmlWmhCMSpjoFVMgoLixnkv-13bFQyeaE

    • Chace Bryson

      August 8, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Casey, thank you for sharing!

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