In sports-crazed America, football, basketball and other rough-and-tumble games are almost a religion. Millions of fans whoop their lungs out. Every hometown school team is cheered fervently by local boosters and proud parents. For youths, success in athletics can seem more important than success in learning.
But a shadow lurks behind the rah-rah exuberance. Sports concussions and other brain injuries are a hidden menace. The Centers for Disease Control says on-field head blows "may appear mild, but the injury can lead to significant lifelong impairment affecting an individual's memory, behavior, learning and/or emotions." The CDC adds:
"Each year, U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 173,285 sports-and-recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, among children and adolescents from birth to 19 years."
During the past decade, it says, the rate of injury has grown 60 percent. Among children under nine, bicycle crashes are a top culprit, while school and gym sports accidents hit older youths.
In the Dec. 4 USA Today, former college women's soccer star Anna Cassell told how head injuries wiped out her career and those of two top-rated colleagues.
As Northwestern University's starting goalkeeper, "I suffered my first concussion ... getting kneed in the head. The next year, I was kicked and elbowed in the head in back-to-back games, which knocked me out for weeks. ... I suffered severe headaches, bouts of anxiety and depression, and balance problems, all of which contributed to my falling weeks behind in my pre-med studies."
She was forced to quit soccer, along with two fellow collegiate women stars after similar blows to the head.
In the Sunday Gazette-Mail, Paul Nyden wrote about the book "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth" by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. The authors compared the NFL's practice of denying players' suffering to the tobacco industry's strategy of underwriting its own questionable "science."
Sports mania never will fade in America. But parents and teens must be aware of the risk that accompanies play.