If you’ve played a contact sport — whether it be football, wrestling or hockey — you know one thing: getting injured hurts, but being embarrassed hurts unimaginably worse. No athlete wants to be called out for being a “crybaby” or “weak”: instead athletes thrive on being the toughest person on the field or court.
But findings raise concern about how silent athletes should remain — especially when it comes to head injuries.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that kills brain cells and eventually leads to loss in memory and the ability to complete everyday tasks. It is most commonly caused from repeated head trauma, commonly found in retired professional football players.
In a study conducted by Boston University in 2015, 42 former NFL players were tested for CTE. Half played tackle football prior to the age of 12, and the other half began after. The findings shocked the world of youth sports: those who played under 12 years old performed substantially worse on tests on memory loss and mental flexibility, some with a difference of 20 percent.
Many parents who have had a child die from a brain malfunction or suicide may finally understand the hidden reasons. Many parents are fighting for the lost lives of their children, such as mother Debra Pyka.
Her son Joseph Chernach played in Pop Warner Little Scholars youth football program for four years. At the age of 25, Chernach committed suicide and was diagnosed with degenerative brain trauma, or CTE, after his death. The organization to take the biggest hit was Pop Warner Little Scholars. Pyka sued Pop Warner and they settled for $2 million.
I played youth tackle football for five years on the North Stockton Bengals, where I started at the center position. I understood the pressures from coaches, parents, and fellow players. Had I experienced a concussion or unseen injury, I’m positive I would not have not told anyone, for fear my coach would have pulled me out of the game when I would much rather continue playing. It was then that I realized that even if I got hurt there was no chance anyone would find out.
My biggest problem with youth football is that it isn’t necessary to transform someone into an amazing NFL player. Just as many kids who play youth football make it to the NFL as kids who start at the high school level, and I believe parents are beginning to realize that.
I understand that some parents believe that hard hits toughen kids mentally and physically and teaches them life skills otherwise forgotten. But what is more important: teaching life skills and mental toughness to a 10-year-old or the ability to be sane when they are 25?