Should playing football require informed consent?

I’m of Irish heritage and we love to tell stories. This story feels like it needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

I grew up in Texas, where football is king.

Here’s my story so parents can make a more fully “informed consent” when deciding if their children should play football.

My dad played offensive line in college. We were proud of our “gentle giant“ dad. The first and only college graduate in his family because of his football scholarship, he met my mom and had my sister and me, and started an athletic clothing shop that went bankrupt. His accountant told my mom he seemed to struggle to understand the finances. He suffered depression but was able to work for a couple of decades, but gradually deteriorated. We did everything we could to bolster his self-image and confidence, but it became clear that this was more than bad financial luck, but it became clear that it was poor judgment, impulse control, and mental deficits. The scams he fell for were numerous. His depression worsened to the point that we almost lost him and are thankful that we didn’t. Many families are not so lucky.

I’m sad that it took us as long as it did to get neurocognitive testing to confirm our suspicions. We just thought it was depression for decades. Deficits were found in the frontal lobe actions: executive planning, impulse control, judgment. Functions critical to parenting, holding a job, handling finances, and general adulting.

Currently, my dad suffers headaches, frustration at his deficits, anger, and depression. He is safe and well cared for and has good days occasionally, but still, he suffers.

He suffers. He really suffers.

I’m thankful he is safe and otherwise healthy; he has taught me so much patience, love, and perseverance. I’m a lot less selfish than I used to be, with plenty of character flaws I still need to work on. But it feels like my mission to teach others what the real risks are.

What does the science say?

We need more research. Researchers at Boston are currently correlating autopsy findings with symptoms and life experiences. We don’t know how many concussions cause symptoms. But we know that more is bad. In one study, 90 percent of suspected CTE sufferers were found to have evidence on autopsy, and they played college football.

Of all football players (those who seem healthy), the percentage who suffer from CTE visible under a microscope on autopsy may be lower. We don’t know. And we can’t diagnose it except for autopsy currently. Physicians are researching how to diagnose it in the living. But the damage is currently untreatable. When you choose to engage in a concussion-inducing sport, you are taking on an unquantifiable risk to suffer from an untreatable, difficult to diagnose, irreversible injury that could impact every decision you try to make.

Like an undetected carbon monoxide leak, it can kill without you knowing it. It kills brain cells and indirectly damages futures, hopes, and dreams. Like smoking, we don’t know exactly how many cigarettes you have to smoke before developing lung cancer. But why take the risk. I fear most people have not heard this side of the story, so informed consent is not truly informed. The brain is a wondrous machine that deserves to be treated like a fragile and miraculous treasure. Not damaged for entertainment to see if you can do it and try to escape harm.

The author is an anonymous physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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