The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh did something that has not been done up to this point; an intensive study on youth football. Using geography as its selector the prestigious group looked into Pop Warner football and concussion rates. The sample size is impressive, over 11,000 athletic exposures over an entire season of play (2011).
However, instead of heralding the work more questions have been raised about the conclusions drawn by lead researcher Micky Collins, PhD. I don’t want to “lead the witness” before you had the chance to hear yourself, watch Dr. Collins below;
Interestingly enough Dr. Collins’ points regarding the depth and breadth of this investigation are spot on, it was both needed and welcome. It is good to have a starting point and something to say “this is where we came from” at all levels of sport – with regards to concussions. After that, I personally disagree with his sentiments and conclusions in the most professional way. I am not the only one;
“Those who played and coached the game know that it’s very possible to still teach technique without going head-to-head full contact,” Dr. Bailes said. “If they’re implying you need head-to-head full contact to learn proper technique, I disagree and think they’re erroneous in that conclusion.”
“The very basic medical principle, research or no research, is: Do no harm,” Dr. Omalu said. “Anybody who tells me that willfully exposing the brains of children to repeated impact is something good, I would humbly disagree with that person. I am not an advocate for the idea that football should be banned or not played — I am not that extreme. I stand with Pop Warner, and I stand with caution. Limit the exposure of children from repeated blows to the head in whatever activity they do.”
The two gentleman above who disagree with Dr. Collins are not just “Joe and Schmoe” type nerds that don’t respect the game or sport, they are both men who encourage sporting activity and have done very good work/research in this area as well. But they too did not sway my opinion on this, I have my own reasons on not agreeing with Dr. Collins (imagine that I am opinionated, ha), here it is as succinct as I can make it:
- The research notes that there was no increase of concussion compared to HS/College, but there was not a significantly lower level either. This is a problem in my mind; in HS you have better medical coverage in terms of athletic training and perceived better coaching/understanding of concussion. In college you do have better medical coverage. Youth exposed to the same amount of concussions as their older – “more protected” – counterparts could create more long-term recovery and general omission of actual injury.
- Dr. Collins noted that there was nearly NO concussions in practice, GREAT! If the changes that have been adopted have decreased the concussion rate to nearly zero in practice then how is that a bad thing? What we don’t know is the concussion rate prior to the implementation of this rule. What we do know from the numbers is that when the speed of the game increases (as it does from practice to games) then the incidence of concussion increases, which makes complete sense. I am willing to hazard a guess that HS and college rates are close to this.
- Finally, the biggest concern I have with the conclusions are that increasing exposure is increasing risk. I only know of one way to prevent concussions – avoidance of activity that will cause the forces needed to create a concussion. Simply put exposure limitation is the only way to prevent concussions in today’s sports. I do not feel that suggesting that we allow for full speed and more contact more often will help decrease concussion incidence in games, I believe this to be counter-intuitive.
However, I would like to thank UPMC for taking on the task of creating a “baseline” for the region on youth football concussions, it was an important step. But like Dr. Omalu we should not knowingly increase the risk or knowingly do harm to people, especially the youth. I do think that Dr. Collins and I agree that the biggest issue in concussion is not the actual genesis of the injury, rather the mismanagement of the injury. If there is one thing we all agree on, we want our children to learn to love a sport and make a lifetime commitment to it, the best way this can happen is if they have fun and stay healthy.