Twitter has been buzzing with Omalu’s NYT Op-Ed piece on the dangers of football, in advance of the release of the Concussion movie on Christmas Day. Dr. Omalu makes some pretty inflammatory and over-the-top statements about the cumulative brain damage that is sustained and is detectable from years of playing contact sports (even without a diagnosed concussion), and that it is irresponsible of parents to make the decision to allow their minor children to play football…that doing so is akin to the risks of giving our children cigarettes, or alcohol.
That is very dramatic – if not melodramatic – and should certainly bring some increased attention and discussion to concussions and sports-safety, which is a good thing overall.
However, and while we know that the risk of permanent injury increases with repeated concussions (and especially when athletes return to play before recovery is complete), Dr. Omalu’s warnings and his most extreme claims about the dangers of concussions in youth seem more intended to inflame, rather than educate.
There are risks in many sports, and particularly in contact sports, in addition to the many benefits from exercise, hard work, and teamwork. Each family needs to weigh the potential risks and benefits of sports participation for their own child, as well as paying attention to the many factors that can impact player health and safety, from the nature and quality of coaches’ training and supervision, to the presence of athletic trainers at practices and games, to the team culture and emphasis on sportsmanship and injury awareness. Injury awareness and education among players and parents is particularly important, too.
I think we can do a much, much better job of concussion education, prevention, identification and management, and it is good to see this movie and other popular media bringing the necessary attention to the issue. It’s a serious topic that needs serious attention, but to many of us who work in this field, the bigger part of this concussion crisis is how they are often managed, more than the fact they are simply occurring.
Food for thought.
In the meantime, see Slate.com for more information about myths and truths in the movie: Click here