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CTE and Youth Football: A Dangerous Combination

A study out of Boston University’s School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System is sounding a warning for parents of young football players, after studying the brains of almost 250 football players.

Eleven-year-old Rowen Ball is a soccer player. It wasn’t his first choice.

Rowen’s dad, Jason Ball, said, “When he turned eight or nine, he really, really wanted to play full-contact football. Just couldn’t let him do that.”

Rowen already had two concussions, and his dad didn’t want to risk him suffering more.

“I understood most of it, because my dad would explain it a lot to me when I always asked him if I could play. Which was a lot,” Rowen shared.

In a new study out of Boston, researchers examined the brains of 246 football players, 211 of them had CTE. They found that those who started playing football before age 12 increased their risk of CTE. Researcher Michael Alosco says, “That younger age of first exposure appears to increase vulnerability to the effects of CTE and other brain diseases, meaning it influences when cognitive, behavioral, and mood symptoms begin.” Vernon B. Williams, MD, Director, Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic warns not to draw conclusions prematurely.

“I don’t ignore this information, but I think it’s only a piece of the information, and it needs to be considered in the context of the bigger picture. And in the context of what we don’t yet know,” Dr. Williams said.

Dr. Williams adds today’s players have better helmets and safety measures than players in the study did. Still, Jason doesn’t regret keeping Rowen out of contact football.

“I love my boys, and I want them to have the same quality of life they have now as they do in their forties and in their sixties.” Jason explained.

Michael Alosco cautions that this is a single study, but kids whose brains are developing shouldn’t be hitting their heads repeatedly. He also says parents should make sure that their kids’ coaches are minimizing risk and repeated hits to the head. And parents and their kids should know the signs of concussion.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Jason Ball, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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