From The Economist - March 2016
Schools and hard knocks
Children need protection from high-impact sports such as Rugby and American football
Concussions in sport
Per 1,000 athlètes per month
Average of studies, 1999-2013
0 1 2 3 4
Ice Hockey 1.2
American Football about .5
Football about .3
Basketball about .2
IMAGINE being asked to take part in an activity that gives you somewhere between a 1-in-5 and 1-in-20 chance of a serious head injury over a four-month period. That could lead to weeks of impaired mental performance and headaches, and, especially if the blows are repeated, the danger of longer-term mental-health problems. Now imagine that your child is the one taking that risk.
Such are the dangers associated with playing American football. The risks of concussion are higher still in rugby, one of the world's fastest-growing sports. These concerns have already prompted some changes. Rugby has introduced "head-injury assessment" rules, enabling players who have suspected concussions to be substituted temporarily so that they can be checked by medical staff. All 50 of America's states have adopted "return to play" laws that require medical clearance before younger athletes who have sustained a concussion can take to the field again.
Such measures are welcome, but they sidestep the real issue: is it safe to play a game whose rules require people to slam into each other? As understanding grows of what happens in the brain when collisions take place, the answer seems certain to be "no".
Adults are able to consent to taking risks of this sort, even if they are not yet fully understood. That does not relieve sports authorities of their duty of care to players-one reason why American-football coaches at Ivy League universities have just agreed to get rid of "full contact" training sessions during the playing season. But liberal principles argue against the most drastic interventions. Boxing; barbarically dangerous though it is, should not be banned, nor should other sports.
Children are a different case, not simply because they cannot give informed consent but also because their brains are more susceptible to long-term damage. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that children who had sustained a single sports-related concussion still had impaired brain function two years later.
Some measures to protect children from harm are already in place. Some states in America have introduced rules for American football to restrict full-contact sessions in high schools: incidents of concussion have fallen as a result. Although the risks of brain injury in association football are lower, US Soccer, the governing body for the sport in America, has banned headers for children aged ten and under, and restricted them for 11 to 13-year-olds.
More should be done. No child should be obliged to play full-contact American football, rugby or ice hockey in schools. And for those who do take to the field or rink, schools should do more to reduce the risks-from recording and monitoring injuries systematically and requiring that children train with players their own size rather than their age, to insisting on non-contact forms of play. Rugby has most to do, particularly given plans to raise the number of child players. This week doctors and academics rightly called for a ban on tackling in rugby games played in British and Irish schools.
Not tackling it head-on
None of this is popular. Critics contend that all sports are dangerous. They argue for the benefits of exercise and say that the nanny state is out of control. But other sports do not involve deliberate impact and are just as energetic. And ensuring the safety of children hardly counts as excessive intervention.
Critics raise another, cultural, objection: that the spirit of games like Rugby and American football is in danger of being lost. There is something to that. But an activity that rests on exposing children to long-term neurological damage needs a better defence. ■
WHEN JESUS RETURNS TO BRING THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH, TEAM CONTACT SPORTS WILL BE PLAYED WAY DIFFERENT THAN TODAY; AND SOME SO-CALLED "SPORTS" LIKE BOXING WILL BE BANNED COMPLETELY. PLAYING AND WATCHING PRO FOOTBALL [SOCCER] IN THE 1950s WAS NOT AT ALL LIKE IT IS PLAYED TODAY - NO WHERE NEAR AS ROUGH….BIG MONEY HAS OFTEN DEGENERATED MANY TEAM SPORTS. THINGS WILL BE WAY DIFFERENT IN THE AGE TO COME, WHEN GOD'S SPIRIT IS POURED OUT ON ALL PEOPLES - Keith Hunt