Just last week, 2 doctors from the University of Minnesota released a preprinting of an article in the American Journal of Bioethics boldly calling for all public high schools to discontinue their tackle football programs.
Though they stated the number of deaths and catastrophic injuries continue to decline, they fear the long-term cognitive effects of concussions and think this move is the only way to keep kids safe.
Last week, I spoke with 1590 WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about the article. It’s very critical of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent release of guidelines for high school football players and doesn’t take into account the sport’s risk-benefit ratio.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.
HORNER: You have some interesting stuff coming out about some writings pertaining to high school football?
DR. CONGENI: Yeah, this is, um, a little bit troubling and it’s something that’s gonna need to be discussed. You know, I’ve had a little bit of attention, you know how much you and I get into discussing concussion and learning by research and trying to be as updated as we possibly can and update your audience.
The latest thing this week, it came out Monday, was a preprinting of an article that is going to be [released] January 2016. I don’t know why they do this because … now everybody’s going to be talking about this.
But, uh, the American Journal of Bioethics, and it’s Dr. Steven Miles and Dr. Shailendra Prasad who came out calling for all public schools to end or discontinue their tackle football programs effective immediately. That’s what these 2 doctors are calling for.
… The preprinting is about a 5-page document and … it’s pretty critical of the guidelines that came out just 2 weeks ago, brand-new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
You know, that’s a pretty large organization that makes, uh, recommendations and policy statements, and they came out with a policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics, on tackling and youth football and Dr. Miles and Dr. Prasad at the University of Minnesota take exception to that article.
[They] say, no, the only way to make kids safe is to call for an end or to discontinue the funding for public school tackle football programs.
HORNER: Very interesting. A matter of fact, Rocco came home the other day and he threw a stat out to me, he said, “Do you know there are more deaths and critical injuries in high school football than any other level of football?”
And I said, “I didn’t know that.”
He said, “Yeah, we were talking about that in school the other day,” and I found that amazing.
Yeah, that number though is still pretty small. I mean … when you look at it under 10 a year, you know, versus other things that occur to teenagers.
DR. CONGENI: There are 1.1 million junior high school and high school players that play football…1.5 million people in this country overall play football. That’s part of why the doctors at the University of Minnesota are calling for this.
Even though the concussion rate is pretty similar in hockey, they say that hockey is played by so many less people in their world of bioethics that it would have much more impact if they started first with the discontinuation of tackle football.
Since 1976, the numbers — and they say this in their position statement — of catastrophic injuries and deaths continues to drop and it’s less than 10 a year, which for that many people playing it’s somewhat small, but it does occur.
But [it deals] more with what are the long-term effects of concussion. Although, I’ve told you, Ray, that I think we still don’t have all the answers there and we’ve learned a lot more in the last 10 years of study, they feel that we’ve learned enough now to be able to come out and say [discontinue tackle football altogether]. This is from their standpoint.
And, at the end of the article, Dr. Miles said that he has in the last 2 or 3 days gotten more emails and correspondence of people supporting him than he thought there’d be. [He thought there’d be] a lot more negative information that he’d get back from people, but he’s had a lot more correspondence from people that are supportive of the position statement that he put out 3 days ago.
… Using one of the studies that’s out there [reporting] 5 to 20 percent of students will experience at least one concussion and a 3 to 4 time increase when they go back that they may get a second concussion, he talks about the fact that the new rules changes in the last 10 years have only had a modest effect on reducing that number. [He also talks about] the medical legal issues in states like Illinois and Iowa, and he states many other issues here.
But, it is something that’s going to be discussed … especially with the criticism of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines. … I think a lot of parents and medical people and school districts will talk about this statement in the next couple of months.
HORNER: Well, you said it, Joe. It is a low number, but you’re a dad. I’m a dad. You know, you gotta think if you’re a parent, do you want your kid to be one of those low numbers? That’s the discussion for sure.
DR. CONGENI: Yeah, the low number though of the deaths and things, but … he says what’s not a low number is the number of people that have a cognitive effect on the brain from having more than 2 concussions. … Though, you know, you can site certain things and others, and I always tell ya that we need to have as much research as we can to make these decisions.
The only other thing that I’d say that in the AAP statement if you took a look at it, which came out 2 weeks ago, about 7 pages, it really talks about the risk-benefit ratio and talks a lot more about a lot of the benefits that kids get when they play this sport.
There was nothing at all in the 5-page document that came out from Dr. Miles and those people about the benefits. So, we always try to look at the risk-benefit ratio.
No doubt, you know me well. You know that I have a [passion] about this thing. You know I have a passion to try to make football safer, but these guys are saying, no, there’s been the attempt in the last few years. It’s time to completely discontinue tackle football. But, I do think there are a lot of real positives that come out of it for kids.
HORNER: Alright, Joe, good stuff. You and your family have a great holiday, okay?
DR. CONGENI: Yeah, we have so much in this community to be thankful for and especially all the good things you do, Ray, and so enjoy it with your family, too. And for everybody out there, have a great and Happy Thanksgiving.
HORNER: Alright. There you go. Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.