The suicide of decorated NFL star Junior Seau last May sent shockwaves through the nation. Doctors later determined he had a degenerative brain disease at the time he died. Since then, many parents have begun to ask questions about chronic brain damage and the risks of contact sports.
In tonight's Healthier Me, if your child wants to play football, soccer, or dreams of becoming a cheerleader, the threat of head injury has likely become a serious topic of discussion.
Angela Attinger has three active children, ages 11, 9, and 5. At this moment, she doesn't think she'd allow her son to play football.
"It does have me concerned about the dangers of some of these sports," Attinger admits. "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's not a passion, we don't have to do it."
The issue may not be so simple, however. Doctor Paul Stricker, a specialist of pediatric sports medicine, offers another perspective: "We don't want people to become so scared that we avoid the wonderful benefits of sports and exercise. We want kids to participate."
Doctor Stricker says it boils down to an awareness of the cumulative effect of head injuries, and 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," he says. "Hopefully now they realize they need to tell somebody."
Doctor Stricker see that as a hidden benefit to an otherwise tragic story: "I think coaches are gonna be more apt to say, 'hey, this kid is not looking right. Let's pull him out.' Or, a child is gonna be more apt to tell their coach or their parent they've had a problem."
The child's doctor may also advise him or her to temporarily modify or eliminate an activity to limit stress on the body and injury. In any case, avoiding permanent damage requires careful observation and honesty.