Two doctors think we need to put an end to high school football, but maybe there's another way.
Each Friday night in the fall, high school students take the field in a quintessentially American tradition: football.
Families around the country file into bleachers at their local high school campuses, ready to take in the action. Might they be watching a future NFL superstar? Will they be able to look back on the game one day and say, "Oh him? I saw him play back when he was in high school"?
It's a tradition that brings whole communities together.
But not everyone is so sold on the benefits of high school football.
Two Minnesota doctors are calling on schools to drop their football programs out of concern for student safety.
Doctors Steven Miles and Shailendra Prasad penned an editorial for the January 2016 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics, titled "Medical Ethics and School Football." In it, they argue that while putting an end to youth football programs is unrealistic, the current set up of school football is unethical in that students and parents aren't fully aware of the risks involved, such as concussion.
Between 5 and 20% of high school players will have at least one concussion over the course of a season.
Not only that, but after someone has a concussion, the risk of additional concussions increases. But what's the big deal? Well...
"A concussion increases the risk of a later catastrophic brain or neck injury that may result in paralysis or death," write Miles and Prasad. "Studies show that football concussions are highly likely to cause headaches and difficulty concentrating or performing schoolwork for a week, several weeks or even longer."
In 2015 alone, seven high school football players around the country have died as the result of on-field injuries.
Not only are the odds of making it in the pro leagues remote, but risk of serious injury only gets worse.
The odds of going pro are slim, with just 0.08% of high school varsity football players going on to play professionally. Even then, the average career is only 3.3 years.
Concern about the long-term effects of sustaining multiple concussions has been mounting for years now, and even some who make it to the NFL have some major doubts. For example, Chris Borland, who signed a four-year, almost $3 million, contract in 2014, retired from the league after just one season, giving up millions of dollars in the process.
And just last week, St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum took a nasty hit, leaving him concussed. Despite what seemed obvious to those of us watching from home, neither coaches nor refs believed Keenum needed to be pulled from the game following this hit. He stayed in for two more plays.
But is banning football really the most practical solution?
While Miles and Prasad's proposed ban would surely reduce the risk of football-related injuries, it's a solution that's unlikely to stick. It's a well-intentioned, idealistic plan, albeit one based on the very real concerns and risks involved with playing a high-contact sport. And maybe their proposal will pass. Anything is possible.
But in the meantime, and just in case it doesn't, there's no reason we shouldn't be doing the next best thing for football players: Parents, coaches, players, yes, even those of us in the bleachers, need to be informed about the risks that go along with playing football, and we need to understand the symptoms of concussions.
Wearing protective gear like helmets isn't enough in itself to keep a player safe from injury, but making sure they're wearing it correctly can help reduce the risk of serious injury. Chin straps, mouth guards, and other protective measures should be taken.
If you know the risk of injury and you're wearing protective gear, what's left is for players, parents, and coaches to keep a keen eye out for concussion symptoms — which aren't always immediately apparent. Symptoms include headache, confusion, amnesia, nausea, delayed response, and ringing in the ears, among others.
Mayo Clinic has a quick rundown of how to know if you have a concussion and what to do in the event that you do to avoid long-lasting or even permanent damage (hint: don't go back into the game that day).