The consequences of head injuries suffered in sports, particularly football, are starting to be taken seriously now after being shrugged off for far too many years, and the revelation that nearly 3,000 Massachusetts middle school and high school students suffered concussions while playing sports during the last school year should heighten concern. Consi dering that not every state school responded to the head injury survey indicates, alarmingly, that the figure is actually far higher.
A state law passed in 2010 requires public and private schools to keep concussion and other head injury statistics and supply them to the state, which provided the data on these reports for the first time last week. Unfortunately, only 164 out of 525 schools made the required reports by the August deadline, as the law mandates no penalties for failing to do so. According to The Boston Globe, a doctor specializing in head injuries who reviewed the data suspects that there is also underreporting of head injuries by students, who don't want to be told to miss any action on the field.
The dangers posed by football, and the apathy of adults in spite of the increasing evidence that head injuries carry potential long-term damage to the young, came earlier this month when five boys between the ages of 10 and 12 suffered concussions during a one-sided Pop Warner League football game in Eastern Massachusetts. The league took this seriously, suspending the head coaches of both teams along with two league officials and banning three referees for life, but parents need to as well. In a disturbing follow-up story, parents whose sons had suffered memory loss and were unable to remember locker numbers or teachers' names after sustaining concussions in football games told The Globe they regarded the injuries as minor because the boys' short-term memories returned after a few days.
Doctors believe that young brains still in the development stage are particularly susceptible to damage, which can grow worse with repeated concussions. Parents, coaches, youth football leagues and schools must do better in terms of prevention and in providing the data necessary to learn the extent of the problem.