Although these teenagers are suffering concussions at higher rates and with worse consequences — the head trauma of football targets the most vulnerable areas of the developing brain — the overwhelming majority of these kids will never play the sport competitively again.They are getting paid nothing and yet they are paying the highest cost.
Another disturbing clue comes from the initial results of an autopsy analysis led by Ann Mc Kee at Boston University.
Over the last five years, she has autopsied the brains of fifteen former players who suffered from various mental conditions, including memory loss and depression. Although Mc Kee has only studied a single teenage brain, she found that brain damage was already detectable, with the multiple-concussed 18-year-old football player showing irreversible signs of CTE in parts of the frontal cortex.
This frenzy of activity leads to a surge of electricity, an unleashing of the charged ions contained within neurons. The worst part of the concussion, however, is what happens next, as all those cells frantically work to regain their equilibrium.
This process takes time, although how long is impossible to predict: sometimes hours, sometimes weeks, sometimes never.
According to Mc Kee, this is the earliest evidence of CTE ever recorded.
And Dimed Essay - Essays Football Concussions
Needless to say, this disturbing data has not dissuaded anyone from playing in the NFL: The tremendous rewards offered to professional athletes help compensate for the potential risk. But this same calculus doesn’t apply to high school athletes, that pipeline of future talent.
The worst possible outcome is a disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
For decades, this disorder was only associated with former boxers — its original name was “dementia pugilistica,” or “punch drunk” disease. At the moment, CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem, after the cortex is dissected.
(In 2008, Sports Illustrated ranked Mater Dei as the second best high school athletic program in the country.) All this success has generated a loyal fan base: It’s not unusual for Mater Dei football games to draw 25,000 fans on a Friday night. The coaches are vigilant; the equipment is top of the line; the latest medical recommendations are exactingly followed.
The school is regularly forced to rent out Angels stadium. There are religious reminders everywhere: little sculptures of Jesus in the doorway, triptychs of saints in the hallway, holy slogans in the weight room. And yet, even when a football program does everything right, it’s still not clear if it’s enough.