Student Well-Being

Barry Sanders Says Parents Should ‘Be Aware of the Risks’ of Football

By Bryan Toporek — January 28, 2016 2 min read
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In an editorial for USA Today published online Sunday, Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders weighed in on whether he believes parents should allow their children to play football.

In Sanders’ opinion, parents should allow their children to continue playing, but they must “be aware of the risks,” specifically in regard to brain injuries. Though he expressed his belief that rule changes are making football safer than ever, he also warned about the potential long-term ramifications of concussions:

For young players, there is a focus on the immediate consequence of the injury. The symptoms of concussions make it dangerous for players to return to the game, and they may interfere with basic daily living, including academics. That alone is reason to follow guidelines closely.

“But the dangers of long-term damage from repeated concussions must be understood as well, and that’s the biggest change from my playing days: None of us -- doctors, coaches, players -- had any idea of the lasting impact.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) dominates the headlines when it comes to long-term brain damage linked to football, but Sanders introduced another neurological condition to the lexicon: pseudobulbar affect (PBA). According to Sanders, the condition, which affects up to 7 million Americans, “can lead to uncontrollable, sudden outburst of crying and/or laughing.” A survey of 500 former professional football players conducted by the non-profit organization Gridiron Greats found upwards of one-third “admit to experiencing symptoms consistent” with PBA.

Sanders concluded his editorial by saying, “we shouldn’t stop those who enjoy the sport from participating,” but he also emphasized the need to “be more vigilant in protecting players and being aware of conditions such as PBA.”

Though awareness of the potential risks of playing football has expanded exponentially over the past half-decade, it remains critically important moving forward. Just about every state now requires student-athletes to sign a form detailing the symptoms and risks of concussions before they’re allowed to participate in interscholastic athletics. As states continue to alter their youth-concussion laws, education will stay at the forefront.

Back in December, Dr. Bennet Omalu, the subject of the movie Concussion, suggested children under the age of 18 should not be allowed to play tackle football or other high-impact contact sports. However, he didn’t call for the abolishment of such sports; he simply wants children to reach a developmental age neurologically in which they can “be provided with the information and education on the risk of play and let the make their own decisions.”

No matter which side you come down on the “Should children play football?” debate, one thing is clear: It’s imperative for parents to know the potential ramifications if they do decide to allow their children to participate.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.