Dr. Julian Bailes is the Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute. Although he is a mentor and colleague of Dr. Bennet Omalu, featured in the upcoming movie “Concussion”, yesterday he disagreed with Omalu regarding the risks of contact sports for children. In a Monday New York Times article, Dr.Omalu wrote that “children should be barred from football, hockey, boxing, mixed martial arts and other contact sports.” My first thought was had that been the case years ago, my childhood would not have been half as enjoyable as it was as a result of participating in these sports.
Dr Bailes said that he is “a big believer in the benefits of organized sports and the benefits of football.” He has two children who play football and said “he believes that football is safer than it’s ever been.” He feels that the CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy) that is being found in the brains of deceased pro football players comes from the thousands of violent hits endured over many years of top level football participation. In no way, in his opinion, does a few seasons of Pop Warner football lead to this disease.
In addition, he makes the point that only about 100 football players have been found to have CTE out of tens of thousands who have played in the NFL. I’m not a scientist or doctor, but if you examined the brains of any group of deceased individuals, there would be a small percentage that would have CTE. In addition, he goes on to say that the reforms the NFL began implementing in 2009 will help in limiting this disease. Anyone currently watching any level of football sees the exceptional caution being taken not only on the field after a player is injured but in the weeks that follow regarding the mandated concussion protocol. Back in the day, after your bell was rung, you got up and continued to play.
Getting away from all the doctor talk, as we all know you can go to ten doctors and receive ten different opinions, here is how I see things. To begin with, as a seller of football gear for over thirty years, helmets have come a long way in their use of TPU cushioning, air liners, air max jaw pads, etc. in providing protection to the head. In addition, at the youth levels, proper tackling is being taught where the players lead with their bodies and not their heads. Finally, at the very early ages of football participation, tackling is as much wrestling, tripping and holding on for dear life as it is true tackling.
Importantly, look at all the benefits of youth football participation. Making friends, learning to be part of a team, being physically active, developing discipline, the list is endless. Is there a risk of injury? Of course, as there is in all sports and in truth in all of life’s endeavors. Banning football at the youth level – ridiculous. Banning it at any level – ridiculous. Being aware of the risks and benefits, taking the proper precautions, wearing the proper football gear, learning and adhering to the proper way to tackle, essential.
Finally, to make a point that might seem trivial or trite when viewed in the light of potential injury, America is all about football. Pregame parties, tailgating, packed, cheering stadiums, school bands, cheerleading routines, buddies around the 52″HD TV, the game is Americana at its finest. Football is never going away, not at any level, the focus should not be on banning, it should be on improving every aspect of the game to make it as safe as possible. Eliminating kickoff returns during which an inordinate amount of injuries occur, worth looking into. Already, by moving the kickoff point ten yards forward, touchbacks abound. Eliminating the 4 and 3 point linemen stances and mandating a 2 point stance to lessen the occurrence of head to head contact, worth looking into. Utilizing computers and metrics to the maximum degree to determine the circumstances leading to injury and making the needed changes, definitely. The only thing to ban is talk of a ban, football is here to stay.