Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the leading experts on concussions, has proposed several tough steps to protect children from damaging blows to the head in various sports.
Apparently, they’re even too tough for parents or pediatricians to follow.
For example, he proposes flag football for youth until age 14 and eliminating heading in soccer until the same age. He says helmets should be mandated in girls lacrosse and field hockey and he would require chin straps for helmets in baseball and softball.
But in an editorial in Time magazine, Cantu realizes his safety tips are unpopular. The neurosurgeon won, by the way, the United States Sports Academy’s Dr. Ernst Jokl Sports Medicine Award in 2009. He is a clinical professor in the department of neurosurgery and a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine. He is also a co-author with Mark Hyman of “Concussions and Our Kids.”
He says medical researchers are the most skeptical of all. They are basically demanding, “Show us the data!”
“Medical researchers haven’t just been conflicted about my ideas—some have opposed them,” Cantu writes in Time. “In a sense, their doubts are understandable. Research science is, by necessity, driven by data and that’s the sort of reasoning that scientists bring to the problem. They want to see the numbers, and research on young athletes is relatively scarce. As a researcher myself, with more than 375 papers published in peer-reviewed journals, I want to see them, too.”
The good doctor points out that there are no longitudinal studies on the effects of tackle football or other collision sports such as lacrosse or ice hockey on the brains of young athletes.
That’s why Cantu says because sports must become safer for kids he is pushing for “the most ambitious, comprehensive study ever done on kids, sports and head trauma.”
He writes: “Among the unknowns: How many blows can a child’s brain absorb before cognitive deficits occur? How long does it take for a child’s brain to recover fully from a hit to the head? Are children playing football at greater risk than those playing other collision sports such as lacrosse and hockey?
What about soccer? Are children who start playing tackle football at age five (yes, there are organized leagues for kids that young) at greater risk of injury than veteran players of, well, seven and eight? There are at least a hundred more equally important subjects that we know surprisingly little about.”
He promises the study would be long-term to find out whether the head-banging of young athletes have any potential negative effects years from now.
In the Time article, he also lays out other parameters for the study, such as recruiting 1,000 youths to participate. He estimates such a comprehensive look at head trauma in children would likely cost $10 million.
“But think about what will be learned and how it might change the futures of millions of youth athletes for generations to come,” Cantu argues. “Then tell me whether it’s too much.”
To read Dr. Cantu’s full article in Time Magazine, click here.
Duwayne Escobedo is the Director of Communications for the United States Sports Academy and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.