How chronic brain injury is changing parents opinion on contact sports

The nation was shocked when successful NFL Player Junior Seau committed suicide last May. The National Institutes of Health announced last week that he had a degenerative brain disease when he took his own life.

Doctors are now seeing how Seau's chronic brain damage has raised questions for many parents about the risks associated with contact sports.

So your child wants to play football, or for that matter, soccer, maybe a future cheerleader. In light of the Junior Seau news, the threat of head injury has become a serious topic of discussion.

"It does have me concerned about the dangers of some of these sports," says Angela Attinger a mother.

Angela Attinger has active 11, 9 and 5 year old children. At this moment, she doesn't think she would allow her son to play football.

"Unless it was a complete passion of his, like 'I have to play football mom', and then I would try to support him and all that he does, but if it is not a passion, we don't have to do it," explains Attinger.

"We don't want people to become so scared that we avoid the wonderful benefits of sports and exercise,” says Dr. Paul Stricker a Pediatric Sports Medicine Specialist. “We want kids to participate."

Dr. Paul Stricker is a Pediatric Sports Medicine Specialist with Scripps. He says it boils down to an awareness of the cumulative effect of head injuries. Players need to do a better job communicating news of their injuries.

"It used to be kids would never tell anyone about it because they want to keep playing, hopefully now, they realize they need to tell somebody," explains Dr. Stricker.

Dr. Stricker sees that as a hidden benefit to an otherwise tragic story.

"I think coaches are going to be more apt to say, ‘hey this kid is not looking right, lets pull him out,’” says Dr. Stricker. “Or a child is going to be more apt to tell their coach or their parent they've had a problem."

A study of Seau's brain revealed abnormalities consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The disease shows up in people who have suffered repetitive head injuries, and symptoms include mood swings, insomnia, irrationality and depression. Seau's family says he exhibited those symptoms in private, and it became worse before he shot himself.

The All-Pro Linebacker played for 20 seasons with San Diego, Miami and New England before retiring in 2009.


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