Most parents don’t think twice about signing up their children for prep football. After all, they are just kids and how seriously could they be injured? Prep football helps introduce your child to the sport, gameplay, and allows you to see if they are a fit for it before pursuing a more formal career in it.
Back in the day, few precautions were taken for cities and municipalities offering prep football. But today, more coaches are aware that concussion prevention starts long before high school or college sports. Furthermore, they are more proactive in educating their players about the risks of playing the sport, the types of injuries, and what happens if they ignore those injuries.
Many have also recognized how the rules have changed. One coach, in his interview with the Laconia Daily Sun, states that – back in his day – children were told to use their head as part of the tackle. Later, he remembers how they told them to go for the side. And today, it is all about leaving the head out of the equation and using a side, wrap, and twist.
What Precautions Are Prep Football Coaches and Leagues Using to Prevent Further Injuries?
It doesn’t matter the age of the players or the level they are playing in, more coaches today are making solid efforts to reduce the number of brain injuries – especially concussions. Concussions are now known to cause serious health concerns later in life. This is particularly true if a player is allowed to continue after suffering a serious head trauma.
One of the biggest risks for football players of all ages is that of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Some of the ways coaches and leagues are working to prevent head injuries and CTE incidents include:
- Creating penalties for violating tackle rules. A big change comes from tackle rules. Leagues are making penalties for any head-to-head contact or using someone’s head as part of a tackle. Anyone that blocks or purposely targets a player will also receive penalties on the field.
- Safer practices also part of the equation. Now, coaches are making practice equally safe. One change that was made recently was the use of foam rolling wheels for tackling drills, and the use of full contact is limited. Also, scrimmages are being scrutinized and coaches are implanting safety in practice games as if they were in a real league game. Most practices no longer allow for live hits.
- Improved helmets might also help reduce head trauma. Helmets today are more advanced, and they offer better head and neck protection for players so that there are fewer instances of head trauma. The Laconia league, for example, purchases helmets used by the NFL, which cost $300 a piece.
No More Shrugging Off Head Trauma
Back in the day, a player was injured on the field and might have suffered a concussion. But, coaches would write it off as nothing more than getting a player’s “bell rung.” Sometimes, coaches would make their players sit on the bench for a week after a concussion. But today, the rules have changed dramatically.
For starters, coaches don’t ignore head trauma. It is no longer considered a minor injury that they shrug off. Furthermore, instead of picking a 7-day span for a player to sit out on the bench, coaches must follow the head trauma protocol. That means the player cannot play until they are medically cleared – not when the coach feels they are ready.
Medical examinations help establish baselines, which determine how severe the concussion was and whether the player has recovered enough to play again safely.
Parents Might Want to Consider a Different Sport for Peewee Level
Parents are encouraging their children to get into sports at a young age, but football might not be the right sport for younger children. Waiting for them to get a little older could prevent further injuries, because children will be more mature and capable of following safety protocols.
Some parents are enrolling their children into football as early as the third grade. But some Laconia coaches are now recommending flag football until fifth and sixth grades, then entering contact football after that. They feel that children who start early may pick up bad, unsafe football habits that could affect their health later on.
How Serious Is CTE?
CTE is not a minor brain disease, and living with CTE means living with severe, debilitating effects.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease common in athletes and those in occupations where they suffer chronic head trauma. A single concussion does not cause CTE. Instead, repeated head trauma forces the brain to produce Tau protein. Tau protein then continues to clump up and spread throughout the brain, taking healthy brain tissue with it. Even if a child is no longer playing football, once CTE starts, it continues to produce the protein and slowly take over the brain.
CTE has been found in victims as young as 17 years. However, the symptoms of CTE take years – sometimes decades – to appear. Symptoms will appear depending on how severe the trauma is. Most victims start to see early signs in their 20s, with the 30s being the most recognizable.
Any source of head impact can lead to CTE, including:
- Punches to the head
- Hits with a helmet
- Collisions and headers
- Blast injuries
- Checking and tackling
- Repeated violence
What makes this disease harder to understand is some players have suffered repeated head trauma and concussions but never developed CTE. Others can suffer just a handful of concussions and have advanced CTE.
Research has found that those who start playing contact sports, like football, at a younger age are more likely to develop CTE. Impacts that frequently occur before 12 years old typically increase the chances of more severe cases of CTE than children who start playing in contact sports after 12 years.
Referring back to coaches encouraging tackle football later, this is an essential factor. Younger children, especially those under the age of 12, should refrain from tackle football. Instead, they can play flag football until they are mature enough to pick up safe habits.
Once CTE Is Diagnosed, How Is It Treated?
CTE is a degenerative brain disorder. There is no cure or treatment. Furthermore, CTE cannot be diagnosed officially until after death. A physician can diagnose a patient based on specific symptoms, but even still, there is no treatment specific to CTE. Instead, the only way to treat CTE once it starts is to help patients manage the symptoms of CTE.
Some management options include:
- Treating Mood Changes: One of the first signs of CTE is severe changes in mood. A person might go from being happy to depressed or overly anxious and without reason. They might have irritability, rage, and other unexplained mood changes. A cognitive therapist helps a person cope with these changes, and they can also take medications that might help them control it better – especially as the mood changes become more severe.
- Treatments for Headaches: As the proteins continue to degenerate healthy cells, a person might suffer from chronic headaches. Some treatments include massage, medication, acupuncture, and craniosacral therapy (an alternative therapy using touch to palpate joints of the cranium).
- Treatment for Ongoing Memory Issues: Another common symptom of CTE is memory loss. As the brain degenerates, a person may start to suffer from short-term and long-term memory problems. Doing memory training exercises, learning to take notes, and some medications might help a patient cope with their memory loss.
What Legal Options Are Available for Those Suffering from CTE?
Repeated head trauma that creates CTE leaves a person facing thousands in medical costs and most likely takes away several years of their life. Many CTE patients die young, especially if the disease developed by their early 20s.
Whether it is you that has suffered from CTE or you lost a loved one from CTE, you have the right to hold the league, coaches, and others accountable for your loss. CTE is a known complication of repeated head trauma and one that leagues cannot ignore.
While some leagues are taking precautions like those in Laconia, others are ignoring the risks and continuing to allow post-trauma players to get on the field.
You have the right to hold them legally and financially accountable for your losses.
To explore your options, it is best that you speak with an attorney that has experience handling these types of cases.
The attorneys at Berkowitz Hanna can assist you with your case. We represent clients in the NFL and pre-NFL leagues who have suffered serious head trauma or developed CTE from sports.