Mental Health, Health, Concussion, Football - American
The Hidden Concussion Cost: The True Cost of Our Entertainment
It’s Thanksgiving weekend.
A weekend jam-packed with collegiate and professional football teams competing to establish their season records for a chance to enter postseason playoffs. We sit, I sat, in front of the TV, watching them as I recovered from my overindulgence at the Holiday table.
And I am a hypocrite.
Watching these young men demonstrate their phenomenal athletic skills, strength, teamwork, intelligence, and coordination is an impressive display of the best physical strength and agility specimens. Then, a collision occurs that renders one of them immobilized, and reality awakens us to the fragile sacrifice that their performance provides us.
This past week, I read two publications that further drove home the cost for those involved in what we are voyeuristically enjoying.
In a heartbreaking and eye-opening piece of journalistic excellence, on November 16, 2023, the New York Times reported on the suicides before the age of 30 of five young men who began playing football in childhood. Through a combination of videos and interviews with their parents and one chillingly resigned good-bye video by an 18-year-old, Wyatt Bramwell, we are privileged to enter the intimate bereavement of these parents whose sons ended their lives due to their pain and suffering from emotional and cognitive changes developed over their brief football careers. The presence of neuropathologic changes in their brains, consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, provides a warning to all responsible adults of the dire consequences of too much, too soon, in a still-developing brain.
A second article, published in the Journal of Athletic Training earlier in September 2023 by Kay and colleagues, studied a population of over 28,000 male and female high school students and found that those with a history of concussion over the prior 12 months were more likely to experience suicidal ideation, planning and attempts when compared to those who had not sustained a concussion. This linkage was even more significant for those who had sustained two or more concussions, where they had double the risk, especially among males.
So, here I am, watching young men slamming into each other on the football field. And I wonder: for every player out there, how many younger players failed to progress through the system and advance to college or professional level performance? And of those that failed, in how many did we not recognize their pain and suffering as parents, coaches, educators, physicians, and responsible adults which then resulted in human tragedy and the lost promise of a successful adulthood?
Prevention of illness, injury, and harm is our duty as a civilized society. As we become aware of linkages and even hints at linkages impacting our children, we have the obligation to be proactive in protecting them from current and future harm.
Those five young people who took their lives in desperation deserve not to have died in vain.