American parents have one more reason to keep their children off the football field.
In recent years, the high incidence of soccer conflict has been linked to persistent brain deterioration, and now a new study has found that the dangers of playing soccer are potentially worse.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Rochester Medical Center say it’s not just the big hits that are bad. A seasonal series of routine hits can also cause long-term brain damage.
The researchers studied 38 University of Rochester players over the course of a season by putting accelerometers – devices that measure the force of acceleration – into their helmets before training and games. The result: two-thirds of the players’ brains showed a reduction in white matter by the end of the season.
“Our research … is beginning to show that the accumulation of many subconcussive hits is critical to long-term brain damage in soccer players,” said lead author Brad Mahon, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon.
The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that in 2018-2019, participation in college sports declined for the first time in 30 years. But the decline of football has lasted for more than a decade. Just over 1 million students play 11-man soccer, a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. This is the lowest value since 1999-2000.
The effects of brain injury research are particularly noticeable in youth soccer leagues, as parents have a strong feeling that they are restricting or even banning soccer for children. A survey by the University of Washington School of Medicine found that 61 percent of 1,025 parents surveyed were in favor of age restrictions for fighting football. Massachusetts, meanwhile, is seriously considering an outright ban on youth football.
Expansion of litigation
And then there are the lawsuits.
The NCAA ended up receiving about 200 filings from litigants alleging that the NCAA and individual schools knowingly exposed them to risk of brain injury.
There has also been litigation in high school and youth football. Last year a California high school settled a brain injury case for $ 7.1 million. A trial is due to begin in January over a closely watched case in California in which a mother filed a lawsuit against Pop Warner Little Scholars, alleging youth football was responsible for the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found in her son’s brain after it was discovered he died in a motorcycle accident.
So is the day coming when football waves the white flag of surrender? Or maybe another flag is blowing? According to the New York Times, more 6- to 12-year-olds now play flag soccer than soccer.
But is America – and the NCAA and the NFL – ready for football without violence?