MILWAUKEE — We have “legal ages” for drinking, smoking and voting. Now, one prominent brain researcher is calling for a “legal age” for high-impact contact sports.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “Don’t let kids play football,” Dr. Bennet Omalu argues that repetitive blows to the head can put athletes at risk for brain damage. He writes that even without documented concussions, over time damage can accumulate at the cellular level and can lead to irreversible brain damage.
Dr. Omalu writes the following:
“Our children are minors who have not reached the age of consent… The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old. We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play and let them make their own decisions.”
“His idea of, do you put a, an age limit on contact sports, we would be guessing at what that age should be because we have no evidence of is 11 better than 14 better than 18,” said Dr. Kevin Walter, Program Director for Pediatric and Adolescent Sports Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Dr. Walter says this is a conversation worth having. But he also says we do not fully know what path leads to that damage.
“We know that repetitive concussions are involved in that pathway. We know that repetitive non-concussion head impacts are involved in that pathway. But we’re still trying to figure out all the other factors and how much is too much and when does it begin,” said Dr. Walter.
Dr. Walter says youth sports should provide an environment that focuses on identifying concussions and getting athletes proper treatment.
“That the coaches are appropriately trained, they’ve got a background, they know about concussions,” said Dr. Walter.