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How Concussion Put Me On The Bench For Good
April 11, 2014 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Soccer Broke My Brain posted by the man of twists and turns (51 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Head Games is definitely a documentary worth watching.
posted by Fizz at 9:32 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


As is The Crash Reel.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:32 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


The coaches in my high school assured us, "it will stop hurting when the pain goes away", and that's good enough for me!
posted by thelonius at 9:36 AM on April 11 [2 favorites]


It's amazing how we zealously protect children from all sorts of mostly-imaginary dangers while leaving them entirely open to known significant risks for the benefit of "the team." Yay, us.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:48 AM on April 11 [27 favorites]


What major sports don't carry a significant risk of brain damage? Supposing it became untenable to let kids do this stuff, what does the athletic environment look like? Everyone plays tennis? Track? Only no-impact sports like golf and curling?
posted by vogon_poet at 9:52 AM on April 11


and perhaps how tightly some people identify with such transient teams and/or sports .. The article is one long lament about losing identity/meaning because one can no longer compete, or at least compete at the level one used to.
posted by k5.user at 9:53 AM on April 11 [2 favorites]


Basketball and baseball seem like the obvious choices.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:53 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


What major sports don't carry a significant risk of brain damage?

It rather depends what threshold you adopt for "significant"--but there's a huge difference between sports where repeated blows to the head are part of normal play (soccer, rugby, football etc.) and where they're occasional accidents (basketball, baseball, volleyball, field hockey etc.).
posted by yoink at 10:00 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Head Games is definitely a documentary worth watching.

Though it wasn't Foreigner's best album.

Seriously though, in all my years of playing youth sports, riding bikes, falling off things, etc with no helmet I don't know how I made it to adulthood with half my brain alive.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:00 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Concussions aren't unknown in either basketball or baseball. People hit their heads on the court in basketball, and baseball players run into walls and the like, along with the more obvious risk of getting hit in the head by a pitch.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:03 AM on April 11


That's true, but those types of plays are few and far between. Nearly every play in football carries a risk of a blow to the head for most players; heading in soccer a little less common but still an integral part of the sport. A massive dunk where you come down on a defender and hit your head on the court, or a fly ball to the warning track is much less likely.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 10:07 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


Oh I certainly wasn't trying to compare it to football, nor should football be compared to soccer, really, just pointing out that there's a risk there for most every sport.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:10 AM on April 11


heading in soccer a little less common but still an integral part of the sport.

Don't see why they couldn't ban it... It's not integral in the way hitting is in (American) football.
posted by Jahaza at 10:11 AM on April 11


Concussions aren't unknown in either basketball or baseball

Concussions aren't unknown in life, generally. You can get concussed when you go out for a walk, or when you go ballroom dancing, or when you do yoga. I played basketball through my childhood, teens and twenties. I never got a concussion once, nor saw anyone on the teams I was playing with or against get concussed. The one concussion I did get during that time was when I was sailing--a pretty low-risk sport for concussion, on the whole.

The point, surely, is not "how do we live our lives so as never to have any risk whatsoever of getting concussed"--it's "should we be encouraging children to play games where the risk of concussion is high or where the very design of the game in normal play entails repeated blows to the head?"
posted by yoink at 10:13 AM on April 11 [12 favorites]


And even rules changes to lessen concussion chance won't neccesarily prevent them. I got what was probably a concussion once as a child when, playing touch football, I ran backwards, tripped, and fell over hitting my head on a manhole cover!
posted by Jahaza at 10:27 AM on April 11


You can make a lot of sports look more or less dangerous depending on how you define "danger" and if you weigh some modes of injury more heavily than others.

If you look just at your odds of dying while actually playing highschool sports, the worst offenders are mens water polo, mens gymnastics, mens football, mens lacrosse, and mens basketball. (Setting aside the putative #1 of mens softball, which is such a low sample size that I don't think it makes sense to count it. It's a weird outlier.) The most mortally dangerous womens sport is also water polo.

If you look at only fatalities, permanent disabilities, and non-permanent brain / spine injuries, then it's ice hockey that tops the list, then football, then womens gymnastics, mens lacrosse, all at over 10 casualties per million participants; mens wrestling, mens track and field, and mens baseball are all above 4 PPM. Then the casualty rate drops pretty significantly for mens swimming, womens field hockey, and mens soccer. There are quite a few serious injuries as a result of soccer, but it ends up low on the list overall because of the huge number of participants.

The most likely to get you injured, all injuries being equal, is apparently womens cheerleading, but it doesn't get counted as a "sport" in most of the studies and so apparently there isn't a lot of data. That's crappy. After that it's ice hockey, for both men and women, with women getting injured more often than men. But it seems to be non-fatal, non-permanent injuries in most cases, so you could easily argue that it's a better option than football. You get all the "character building" pain-tolerance points, but a lot less of the brain damage.

Some sports, such as gymnastics, seem to have a much higher injury rate among school-based participants compared to extracurricular, club-based participants. Presumably because kids doing it year-round in a club are in better shape and aren't suddenly beating themselves up during the "season" and then going back to something else the rest of the year. I wonder if that's also true of team sports; do kids in year-round travel leagues fare better than those just playing on the school team? Or does the greater amount of field time make it a worse decision overall? It seems really hard to tell.

And my guess is that if you removed heading from soccer, that would eliminate one of the main avenues for head injury and what you'd be left with was a lot of superficial injuries from collisions and stuff, plus the occasional more serious joint injury. In terms of safety ROI for the amount of change you'd have to make to a game, it seems like a low-hanging-fruit sort of option. Football, by contrast, seems fundamentally bad; unless you eliminate the scrimmage line and tackling, it's pretty much always going to be bad -- the best you can probably do is eliminate all the pads and make it more like rugby, and hope for more superficial injuries and fewer TBIs.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:27 AM on April 11 [4 favorites]


make it more like rugby

One of my friends at high-school (who played basketball with me, come to think of it), also played rugby on the weekends and I used to go along to his games. I never watched a single game where someone wasn't helped off the field with at least mild concussion (i.e., dizziness, weakness, slight disorientation etc.). Put a bunch of adolescent boys out on the field in a sport that involves running at each other full speed and you're going to do a fair amount of damage to their brains, regardless of whether they're wearing padding and helmets or not.
posted by yoink at 10:33 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


The one concussion I did get during that time was when I was sailing--a pretty low-risk sport for concussion, on the whole.

I saw that almost all the sailors in the recent Americas Cup were wearing helmets this time around, and it's started to trickle down to less elite levels of the sport.

I know a couple of dinghy sailors who wear them, mostly only after they've gotten a concussion or two and had the unpleasant experience of waking up in the water. But given time I could see it becoming pretty standard. PFDs took a very long time to become de rigueur, but now it's rare to see someone racing without one. (Part of that issue may have just been that the old PFDs were ridiculously terrible to wear, vs the new automatic inflating ones which you can easily forget about.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:37 AM on April 11


I saw that almost all the sailors in the recent Americas Cup were wearing helmets this time around

The latest America's Cup involved some truly extreme yacht designs which necessitated a much higher concern about personal injury for the crew than is the case in most normal yacht racing. It's true that helmets are beginning to creep into the sport, but they're still the exception rather than the rule in most classes.
posted by yoink at 10:44 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


I played lacrosse for many years as a kid. I got really knocked around, including two hits by one player way bigger that had me seeing stars, hearing high pitched whines and grey around the edges for days.

Fuck you, Pine.
posted by nevercalm at 10:45 AM on April 11


I'll never understand the emphasis on children and teens playing sports that have a high likelihood of significant injury, period.

In high school, it seemed like there were always 3-4 kids in a given year who had sports injuries that resulted in surgeries, significant time in braces and/or crutches, and having to quit the activity that their entire life so far had centered around.

I am incredibly glad that I eventually transferred to a school that didn't have an athletic program at all. Not only because I wasn't athletic and it was nice not to be in an environment completely centered around sports, but because that whole ethos of "do this pointless activity until you literally are almost disabled for life" disappeared. It felt a lot healthier to have sports as a fun hobby you could pursue if you wanted to, rather than the absolute focus of the school community.
posted by Sara C. at 11:45 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


It felt a lot healthier to have sports as a fun hobby you could pursue if you wanted to, rather than the absolute focus of the school community.

There are schools like this and I attended one; I absolutely agree that the injuries are unconscionable, especially given what we know now, and Mr. Pterodactyl and I have agreed that we won't allow our kids to play football or a number of other sports.

That said, I think it's easy to miss that there can be value to these activities and that being on a team with a common goal is big deal to a lot of people. My brother and I were very, very different in high school (he was a freshman when I was a senior) to the point that one of my teachers actually didn't believe we were related; I was the tech director for drama (largely combined with stage manager responsibilities at my school) and he ended up being the captain of both the football and the lacrosse teams. I was not a big sports fan (I'm still not a huge sports fan) and I totally judged him for this, although I tried not to do it aloud. I thought it meant he spent all his time with dumb jocks who were really disrespectful to women and had no real personalities and were going to peak in high school.

What I've realized as I've gotten older is that these teams were a really, really big deal for my brother; like many people (including me, although my issues were more severe) high school was a tough time for him. Being part of a team with people who cared about him and supported him was a big deal. He felt welcomed and cared for and the vast majority of his friends and teammates were really good guys, something I wouldn't have realized if I hadn't seen them through my brother's eyes and had only known them in school. The summer before his senior year my parents' house burned down and that was super, super, super hard on my brother, and he ended up writing his college admissions essay on how important the team was to him in getting through that time. He only played football for a year in college because he ended up having other friends and support systems there, but football for him worked really similarly to drama for me; he was working with people, he had friends with whom he shared an interest in common, and he got to take on responsibilities and function as part of a team.

I get that there are problems with the culture of sports in many places and the information we have about injuries now definitely pushes me over the line into "no way is that worth it" territory, but I think it's worth recognizing that there is something valuable about high school sports; just because the kids playing football might be "jocks" doesn't mean it isn't important for them to have a place, too. High school is tough on many, many people and being part of a real team can be immensely valuable.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:00 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


What happened to this woman was a horrible accident. And any sport carries its risk. Kids can dive off a pool wrong, slip and fall.... there are countless ways we can injure ourselves. We can't make life 100% safe.

Personally I think the benefits outweigh the risks - you get some exercise and no joke, playing sports builds confidence and team skills. 82% of women in executive positions played team sports in school. Not a pointless activity at all since it hones the mind as well as the body.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:01 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


That said, I think it's easy to miss that there can be value to these activities and that being on a team with a common goal is big deal to a lot of people.

Sure. I don't think team sports are bad, per se.

I think the bad part is the fact that a lot of high schools have specific Athletic Departments with full budgets of their own, whose priorities stand above the priorities of academic departments, and which dominate the social culture of the school.

Going to a school where people did sports because they felt like it, on a casual just for fun basis, and nobody* ever got health-ruining injuries, was a revelation after attending a more conventional school where renovations on the gym took precedence over offering AP classes, pep rallies were mandatory and held during school hours, and the entire social world of the school centered around the football team and cheerleaders.

*Literally the worst sports-related injury I remember happening in my two years at that school was a girl who broke her nose at karate practice.
posted by Sara C. at 12:18 PM on April 11


Competitive sports are a pile of shit for your physical and mental wellbeing. Just say no, kids.
posted by colie at 12:35 PM on April 11


Competitive sports are a pile of shit for your physical and mental wellbeing. Just say no, kids.

This is the type of sentiment to which I was trying to respond above; the cult of sports can definitely be problematic, and I'm not trying to deny that, but sports can and do have value for a lot of people.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:41 PM on April 11 [6 favorites]


I think the bad part is the fact that a lot of high schools have specific Athletic Departments with full budgets of their own, whose priorities stand above the priorities of academic departments, and which dominate the social culture of the school.

This is a problem with a school and a community. Not with Sports. I went to a high school where Sports were popular but it wasn't like the town showed up for Football games, and it was very clear that getting into a good college was a higher prestige outcome than being All-State. Being able to compete on the field where there were limited expectations of me as opposed to the classroom where I was supposed to be one of the smartest kids in the room was pretty much a life saver for me in High School. Add into that having a non-American academic-y/science-y father meant that Sports was the one area where there was no pressure on me.

To this day many of my closest friends are guys I played Football and Lacrosse with in High School.

When I was a kid I always wondered what it would be like to grow up in a town like in "Friday Night Lights" (the book bien sur)- and as a 13 year old I thought I was missing out on something. By the time I was 18 I realized how lucky I was that was able to have the experience of team sports that I had. Same thing goes through my mind when I see insane youth sports - football, basketball etc. Taking a great activity and turning it into something fucking terrible.
posted by JPD at 12:50 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


The town I live in has more than doubled in a decade. Our schools are bursting at the seams. Guess what got built before science labs and new schools. An espn ready football stadium. Millions of bond dollars. Millions. Because...football! Sigh.
posted by dejah420 at 1:34 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: "Some sports, such as gymnastics, seem to have a much higher injury rate among school-based participants compared to extracurricular, club-based participants. Presumably because kids doing it year-round in a club are in better shape and aren't suddenly beating themselves up during the "season" and then going back to something else the rest of the year. I wonder if that's also true of team sports; do kids in year-round travel leagues fare better than those just playing on the school team? Or does the greater amount of field time make it a worse decision overall? It seems really hard to tell.

Pediatricians HAAAAAAATE club sports because kids who "specialize" in one sport before high school or who practice more than 5 days a week or who don't have a couple months off from organized sports each year get way, way more overuse injuries than three-sport athletes who play a different sport each season, and club sports/travel teams tend to have more intensive, longer, more frequent practices, which also contributes. So you get these junior high school students getting rotator cuff surgeries for over-pitching injuries, or kids who have no knees left by the time they're 15 from playing basketball so intensively. (Studies even show that kids who play multiple sports and who lay off between seasons play for more years and perform at a higher level than single-sport kids, but the Mantra Of Tiger Woods is strong and some "sports parents" are all about getting the 10,000 hours and having a prodigy. Which does happen, sometimes you will get a prodigy in a particular sport who benefits from really intensive focus. But way more often you've got a kid who's a good ballplayer and will grow up to be an accountant and probably shouldn't wear out his joints before college in the hopes of playing in the MLB.) The worst injuries (in my mind) are to the growth plates, which can permanently stunt growth or cause abnormal development.

A lot of youth soccer leagues already don't allow heading because of the concussion issue; it is banned somewhat more often in girls' leagues than boys' leagues. But I think most teenaged leagues do allow it.

Sara C.: "I think the bad part is the fact that a lot of high schools have specific Athletic Departments with full budgets of their own, whose priorities stand above the priorities of academic departments, and which dominate the social culture of the school. "

We have athletic departments and athletic directors because complying with the state rules for student safety and eligibility is essentially a half-time job. Our ADs are all teachers and coaches with more than a decade in the classroom and on the field. They have "full budgets of their own" because everything has its own budget item because, you know, we follow the law for accounting for public monies. If you have an athletic director or an athletics program whose "priorities stand above the priorities of academic departments," your principals, superintendent, or school board need to exercise their authority and get that shit in order. Our ADs are passionate about sports, and they are "sports guys," but they're teachers who choose to work with children, in a public school environment, and they're passionate about what sports can ADD to the school experience and environment. Two of our ADs sponsor and organize this big-deal yearly chess tournament because they like chess, and they've been instrumental in arranging to have pep rallies honor academic bowl champions and mathletes and so forth.

It's objectively a lot of money spent on sports -- somewhere around $2 million, but that includes mandatory phys ed -- but our total budget is $200 million, so sports and phys ed are around 1% of spending, which seems more reasonable in context. (That includes salaries, coaches' stipends, transportation, maintenance of fields, security for games, student consumables (uniforms, balls), EMTs on call, all costs of participation & compliance that remit to the state, all that sort of thing. I don't think it includes insurance costs, but if anyone cares that much I can probably run down an exact number.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:38 PM on April 11 [5 favorites]


those just playing on the school team

FWIW, for high school football and other sports where our school happened to compete at a high level (soccer, maybe women's softball), team members were expected to practice year round.

As an outsider, this was the part that chafed me the most. The dudes on the football team literally had to give up their entire summer to working out so hard they puked, day in, day out, 7 and 8 AM practices that went all day. For what? 10 games and a strong chance that you'd end up having knee surgery before Christmas? I mean clearly these dudes loved football, and far be it from me to take that away from them, but the ROI just seemed so, so shitty.

I can't speak to overuse injuries, but I'd probably think better of varsity sports in general if they were just games and not something to throw away your childhood for.
posted by Sara C. at 1:48 PM on April 11


(Also, some things are "sports" and come out of the athletic budget that you might not think of -- marching band, for example, is a sport in my state and come out of the athletic budget. Non-competitive cheerleading -- the kids on the sidelines at games -- is an extracurricular and not a sport and comes out of a different budget. Competitive dance is athletics; step club is extracurricular. My state has required phys ed and if you are in a state-recognized varsity sport in a high school in compliance with various regulations, you are waived out of phys ed for the duration of your competitive season ... so if you're in a competitive marching band, you don't have to take gym class all of fall semester, just like the football players. This is big driver of athletic participation because phys ed eats up a class period during the day when you could be taking academic electives for college admission or voc tech classes towards certification, but sports are before or after school and so free you up. There are a number of REALLY TERRIBLE RUNNERS in cross country because they want to free up a period for AP Psychology or clear their morning for metalworking.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:49 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


This is a problem with a school and a community. Not with Sports. I went to a high school where Sports were popular but it wasn't like the town showed up for Football games, and it was very clear that getting into a good college was a higher prestige outcome than being All-State. Being able to compete on the field where there were limited expectations of me as opposed to the classroom where I was supposed to be one of the smartest kids in the room was pretty much a life saver for me in High School. Add into that having a non-American academic-y/science-y father meant that Sports was the one area where there was no pressure on me.

I had a similar experience. It was *because* sports were so involving that they felt like a real escape from the pressures of school/home/etc. Also, I don't know how generalizable this is, but the first time I was able to really participate in an involving and structured activity outside of the classroom was when I was old enough to play high school sports. The sports were offered through the school, so I didn't have to count on my parents to pay for or keep track of anything. The team did *everything* together during the season, including homework and dinner together on game nights (which were two or three nights a week for us), and the coaches did things like look into colleges and help us get ourselves sorted in general. Playing sports was a hugely positive experience for me, and that's regardless that I was a mediocre athlete (at best) and not all that outgoing in school.

I completely agree that sports shouldn't be the end-all-be-all in terms of community or the school budget, and that kids shouldn't be pressured to excel to the point of injury, and that some sports are so inherently dangerous that they're likely to do more harm than good for the kids (and adults) who play them (I think football is one of those sports). But I think that sports -- especially when they're very involving -- also answer *emotional* needs in kids. Why are these kids willing to risk injury just to be a part of the team? It's not necessarily parental pressure or ambition -- it sure isn't for the vast majority of female athletes, and there are plenty of sports were "going pro" isn't a real option for either gender, and plenty of athletes whose parents couldn't care less. There's something that a lot of these kids are getting from sports that they can't get elsewhere, and so they love playing them and will do virtually anything to keep playing them. Taking that chance away or devaluing sports or limiting kids' exposure to them isn't necessarily a good thing for kids, either. Because how will they get some of those needs for nurturing, community, escape, etc, met then?
posted by rue72 at 1:54 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


I can't speak to overuse injuries, but I'd probably think better of varsity sports in general if they were just games and not something to throw away your childhood for.

I've known plenty of people throughout my life who played varsity sports in high school. Your description fits basically none of them. They were people who devoted portions of their school years to something they enjoyed in the same way band or theater people did. They are normal well adjusted people as adults.

There's plenty of room to worry about the way some schools treat sports and the way certain sports in general affect the body. I don't plan to let my kids play football, for instance, but let's not act like the girl who runs cross-country has thrown away her childhood because she had to go practice.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:01 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


Also, some things are "sports" and come out of the athletic budget that you might not think of -- marching band, for example, is a sport in my state and come out of the athletic budget. Non-competitive cheerleading -- the kids on the sidelines at games -- is an extracurricular and not a sport and comes out of a different budget. Competitive dance is athletics; step club is extracurricular.

Sure, but you know, if you're deciding whether to have a marching band or better academics, why pick marching band?

sports are before or after school and so free you up

This was absolutely not the case at my more athletically-oriented high school, for either actual sports* or marching band. In fact, if you participated in those activities you had the option of taking one fewer course per semester and getting out of class early.

*It's worth noting that, for the most part, players of the less intense sports like tennis, track, etc. did not tend to take advantage of this and actually went to school like normal teenagers.
posted by Sara C. at 2:02 PM on April 11


I was just speaking to my soccer playing and loving boyfriend that this sport will probably follow football for losing youth players over the next few decades now that the concussion injuries are known to cause issue later in life for many players.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:13 PM on April 11


Sara C.: "those just playing on the school teamThe dudes on the football team literally had to give up their entire summer to working out so hard they puked, day in, day out, 7 and 8 AM practices that went all day. For what? 10 games and a strong chance that you'd end up having knee surgery before Christmas?"

There are seriously laws and regulations about two-a-days and practice length (and also, in my state, you can't start football practices before August 12), and the program will lose its eligibility for these kinds of violations. When kids start vomiting, we start firing coaches. I'm not kidding.

And nobody loves to report practice or eligibility violations quite as much as opposing coaches; it's actually a pretty efficient system for discovering violations, as long as the enforcement people are willing to investigate and act on reports.

Sara C.: "Sure, but you know, if you're deciding whether to have a marching band or better academics, why pick marching band?"

Because arts and athletics are important parts of well-rounded students, which is why my state has state requirements for them in the academic curriculum? Because marching band and basketball and chess club help keep marginal students engaged in school and encourage academic achievement by having eligibility requirements? Because students involved in extracurriculars -- including varsity sports -- tend to perform better on academic measures than students who are not? Because students involved in sports are significantly less likely to drop out? Because students involved in sports engage in fewer "risky" behaviors (drinking, drugs, early sex) than students who are not?

I mean, look, I'm not athletic, I didn't play school sports,* and I didn't like the "jocks" when I was in school. But the benefits of sports (and other extracurriculars) are real and substantial, even leaving aside issues of physical health and activity that are increasingly important for American children.

*I did do marching band but it wasn't a varsity sport until the year after I graduated, boo!

Sara C.: "In fact, if you participated in those activities you had the option of taking one fewer course per semester and getting out of class early."

There are minimum legal requirements for enrollment and either this was available to all students meeting their minimum requirements (but only routinely taken advantage of by athletes), or your school was private, or it was unaccredited, or it was foregoing significant federal and state dollars in order to flout the law.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:15 PM on April 11 [11 favorites]


Having watched my mom die of ALS, I am going to have a really tough time if/when my kids play sports. But I still want them to, if they want to. Except for football, I think that's out.
posted by amro at 3:31 PM on April 11


Eyebrows, one thing that comes to mind is that I'm from the South, in an area that has a lot of cultural similarities to the famous Texas cult of high school football, while you're in the Midwest. My home state is also one of the worst in education, on a national level.

Is it possible that state educational policies are different in our different parts of the country, and not that I'm just a mean ole jock hater? I actually do remember what it was like to attend a high school completely in the thrall of football (and a couple other sports). I'm not making up lies out of spite.
posted by Sara C. at 3:45 PM on April 11


[Let's maybe not have the thread turn into a debate over Sara C's views?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:49 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Are there a lot of national laws concerning education and things like that? I honestly don't know.

It seems like it's that part that the conservatives of the United States thrive upon -- the standard whereby each state makes their own laws concerning all kinds of shit. Sometimes it works out for the liberal side as well.
posted by mr. digits at 4:52 PM on April 11


I'll never understand the emphasis on children and teens playing sports that have a high likelihood of significant injury, period.

Because physical activity and thrill seeking are integral parts of childhood for most. I grew up riding horses and playing hockey and all the "dangerous" sports and I was much safer there than playing the XTreme Calvinball shit we came up with left to our own devices. No one ever fell off the dairy barn roof and broke their leg because they got hit in the face playing slingshot wars during hockey practice.

Sports at least teach you to channel your desire to be the champion of the world into some semblance of rules and good sportsmanship. You learn safer ways to do dangerous things you're going to do anyway. And they also give younger siblings a level playing field for once.
posted by fshgrl at 5:26 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


In most football playing countries, the trend for kids is moving towards small-sided games which are much more technical than the eleven-a-side kick-and-rush of yore. This naturally reduces the opportunity for physical collisions and almost eliminates the need to head the ball. As a result, the vast majority of casual participants will not be exposed to any more risk than they would experience playing netball or kabaddi.
As the participants get older and the level of competition goes up, it's inevitable that the physical element becomes more prevalent. This is also true of non-contact sports, (e.g. golf or curling, as mentioned above) where the physical fitness requirements at the elite level necessitate an intensity of training that constitutes a risk of injury in itself.
There is no activity that is 100% safe. As far as football/soccer goes, I would strongly suspect that in the US the road miles covered in an average year of competition for a serious player pose a greater risk to their long term health than the risk of on-field injury. I would also further guess that the effect at the population level of banning contact sports would be a net negative, due to the combination of lost exercise and displacement effects such as fshgrl's XTreme Calvinball.
I think it's prudent to be aware of the risks of concussion and to have hard protocols in place to deal with it so we can avoid the "play through it" bullshit. But I also think it's unrealistic to imagine that you can remove the risk of concussion from every human endeavour, and counter-productive to try to do so. We as a species like to do stuff like this. If it's not done in a relatively safe and organised fashion, it's going to get done anyway, and worse.
posted by Jakey at 5:40 PM on April 11


I also think it's unrealistic to imagine that you can remove the risk of concussion from every human endeavour,

Well...
posted by fshgrl at 6:18 PM on April 11


mr. digits: "Are there a lot of national laws concerning education and things like that?"

There are some -- like Title IX requiring high school girls' sports' equity with boys' sports -- but the primary drivers of state-level laws and regulations are private bodies, like the NCAA's fairly stringent regulations for college eligibility (a major function of state high school athletic associations is ensuring student eligibility for NCAA sports), and the insurers who insure high school athletics working regionally or nationally and having the same requirements, and the national body for high school athletics. All 50 state high school athletic associations (i.e., the state governing and certifying bodies for high school sports) are members of a national association, which disseminates standardized rules for high school sports, provides training for officials, oversees national competitions (where applicable), etc. State associations can implement rules in various ways that fit their local needs, but in general are expected to be in compliance with the national association's rules/goals (for player eligibility, safety, etc.). The national association also has agreements with the NCAA and various professional leagues (notably MLB and its minor leagues) and the USOC, which makes non-compliance with national rules potentially costly. Some things are voted on and all state bodies are expected to comply; other things, they may send down recommendations and state bodies can adopt them or not as they see fit. The last few years they've offered recommendations on concussion rules, and now that states have had a chance to test out various options, they're starting to require them.

Anyway, the point is, state laws and regulations do vary, but not by a huge amount.

(One of the things that's funny to me about the NCAA is that it's so, so dirty and it places so, so much pressure on high schools to keep things clean. Like they're outsourcing their morality because it's too much work to police their own guys. Everyone knows you have to keep your nose extremely clean in high school and comply with even dumb regulations from the NCAA so you keep your eligibility for getting IN to college, because the NCAA can seize on small issues or excuses and screw you for college, but once you pass that screen and you're in, nobody's really paying all that much attention to the little rules anymore; you have to get in really big trouble for the NCAA to care.)

When I came into school governance five years ago and I first had to deal with the athletics people, I was kind of like, "Ugh, these guys are Sports Guys (tm) and I do not have a lot in common with Sports Guys and they're usually pretty tedious about sports and high school jocks are THE WORST and couldn't we be spending more money on the arts?" After five years, though, I am suitably impressed with the benefits of high school athletics, and very impressed with the Sports Guys (mostly men, some women) who run the programs. There are some bad apples in any barrel and we've fired some coaches, but by and large the athletic directors and the coaches are people who have a talent for working with children and who are REALLY ENGAGED in educating kids, and they are people who have their priorities in order. I've also come to see sports as invaluable, in my high-poverty community, in reaching boys in poverty. It's an extremely powerful counterweight to gangs locally, and for a lot of boys it's the first place they've really seen where traditionally masculine/macho values like strength and tenacity and competitiveness can be channeled in a positive direction, and good coaches get them channeling that energy first into basketball (instead of street fights) and then into math.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:23 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


I forgot to add, Canada has a similar body overseeing its school athletics, and it and the US body have observing delegates to each others' national associations, as do various Carribean islands, so there's a fair amount of harmonization in North America generally.

This also may interest some people in this thread, here's a PDF of a survey of high school athletics eligibility requirements (age, number of classes taking, GPA, etc.) from 2010 and whether states have more or less restrictive rules than recommended by the national body, and lots of summaries of states' rules. It gives you an idea of the sorts of things state associations are concerned about w/r/t student participation.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:32 PM on April 11


But I also think it's unrealistic to imagine that you can remove the risk of concussion from every human endeavour, and counter-productive to try to do so.

I don't think anyone's imagining any such scenario. Most people seem to be recommending some sort of informed consent, where players (and parents, for minors) understand the risks better before they agree to participate in concussion-likely activities, and where coaches are better trained to prevent or mitigate permanent brain damage resulting from concussions. That doesn't seem like an unrealistic goal.
posted by jaguar at 8:00 PM on April 11


I've been a coach and you can make people sign consent forms till they're blue in the face and spend hours and hours trying to hammer safety rules into everyone and when someone gets hurt some people are going to claim a) they had no idea that could happen and b) its the coaches fault. Honestly its why I quit.

Parents who played sports themselves are generally totally cool and their kids have a much better understanding of risk and don't freak out if they get hurt or try to be heroes. Anxious parents who ask a million questions which are all a variation of "but for my kid, you've magically removed all the risk, right? Right?" are a fucking nightmare. You just know there is no way you can convince them that you're not negligent if the kid breaks a fingernail. And their poor kids have to try and assuage their parents fear and anxiety. A lot of times those kids end up spending 99% of their time with the team because it's a more relaxed environment than they have at home where all the focus is on them.
posted by fshgrl at 10:06 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Sports carry risks and it is part of the fun. We don't want our children to grow up without testing their boundaries. There are some sports I'm glad my kids didn't choose, but I probably would have let them if they'd wanted to. They still went to the ER regularly, from falling during some fooling around in class, from cooking bacon while home alone, from trying to climb up on something in the bathroom.
What I find scary and wrong is the lack of seriousness when concussions happen and should be treated, which is also how I read the article. She claims "new knowledge" has changed the way concussions are treated, but I am old (50), and I was treated responsibly when I hit my head during sports (3 times in all). What was/is happening in sports is that people are ignoring correct procedures because correct procedures seem redundant, even for some doctors - it can be hard for a child or young person to rest indoors when the headache is gone. It was for me. But someone forced me to do it, thanks. As I forced my kids.
I'm seeing it all the time, not only among kids and their coaches, but even with seemingly smart adults. I feel it's a growing trend, and like I'm becoming a crusader for concussion treatment.
I now know several people who are severely and permanently invalidated after not getting the correct advice from their doctor/the ER in the first place. People coming in to school or to work the day after a concussion, or who are watching TV or reading during their sick-leave when they take one. Getting back into the field after a blow to your head? Are you crazy?? I know kids want to go back, but it isn't impossible to explain to them that they have only one brain. With adults, the stupid is so bad, I don't know what to say.
posted by mumimor at 1:27 AM on April 12


Because arts and athletics are important parts of well-rounded students, which is why my state has state requirements for them in the academic curriculum?
I would be more sympathetic to that argument if arts were funded or supported anywhere near as well as sports are. In most communities, they're not.

I have mixed feelings about sports. I work with college students in a state where sports are huge but not, I think, in the same terrible, destructive way that they're huge in some other places. Football is super important, but it's not everything. Girls' sports get plenty of attention, too. A lot of students go to schools that are small enough that everyone can be on a team. I think that, for a lot of my students, sports are a really positive part of their lives. I find myself using a lot of sports metaphors to explain academic things, because my students have usually worked really hard in sports, and many of them have never worked hard in school. "You have to practice doing chemistry problems the same way you had to practice your lay-up: just do them over and over and over again until they're embedded in your muscle memory." "When you do badly on an exam, you have to treat it the same way you would treat a game that you lost. Going over the exam with your TA is like watching the tape the next day to see what went wrong. Discussing your study strategies is like tweaking your practice routine to figure out how to address the problems you saw in the tape." Sports are often the only part of my students' lives where they have exercised self-discipline, bounced back from failure, and worked really, really hard. And those qualities do often transfer. I wish they had been called upon to exercise self-discipline and work hard in their academic lives, but I will take what I can get.

Having said that.... An awful lot of my students have had serious injuries. It's easy to discuss careers in physical therapy with them, because most of them have had physical therapy for sports injuries. Very few of my students have had the kind of exposure to the arts that they've had to athletics, because art, other extracurricular, and foreign language budgets are constantly getting cut to protect the all-important sports programs. And the overwhelming majority of my students tell me that they hate history, an endemic problem in the US that can usually be traced back to the fact that, in most schools, being a history teacher is part of the football coach's job. Almost nobody is hired to teach history in American high schools because they love history and want to teach it. They are hired because they're excellent football coaches, and teaching history is a minor part of that job. And if you love history, as I do, that really sucks.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:08 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


for a lot of boys it's the first place they've really seen where traditionally masculine/macho values like strength and tenacity and competitiveness can be channeled in a positive direction

... and for quite a few boys like me, who got raised without any traditionally masculine/macho values in their lives, it's the first place they suddenly found themselves thinking 'what in the name of holy fuck is this crap?'
posted by colie at 7:13 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Banning heading the ball in soccer? Haha, i don't think anyone outside the US could've ever come up with that as something possible in this universe.
posted by palbo at 11:04 PM on April 12


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