Football and Concussions: Time for Youth to Punt?

The First of a two-part series

A fourth grade Eagles running back heads downfield against Mexico in a recent game.

The game was a typical fourth grade football game: Twenty-two players running around on the field, most of them knowing which direction they were heading and one player with the ball, hoping to find some daylight and run for a touchdown.

On this running play, the Southern Boone player with the ball was dragged down from behind and hit as he went down. Back at the line of scrimmage, there was a loud “crack” as two linemen collided. The pile of players at the point of the tackle, four or five of them, popped right up, eager to get to the next play.

Back in the middle of the field, the Eagles player pulled himself up but the lineman from Mexico, on his back was not moving. Coaches came out on the field along with a trainer. Eventually, after 3-4 minutes, the Mexico lineman got up and walked off the field under his own power.

On the Eagles bench, even the 10- and 11-year old players knew what happened. “Man, he got his brain smacked,” one young player said.

Getting a young football player’s “brain smacked” is what Dr. Aaron Gray, M.D., doesn’t want to see in youth sports. Gray practices both at MU Health Care’s Missouri Orthopaedic Institute and is the medical director of the Human Performance Institute. He is board certified in family medicine and has a Certificate of Added Qualifications in primary care and sports medicine. His specific areas of interest include stress fractures, overuse injuries, pitching and throwing injuries and concussions.

However, Dr. Gray does not want to impress a reporter or other parents with a lot of big medical verbiage or “doctor jargon” when talking about young players taking hits on the football field. He talks more like the parent of two children that he is, leaning towards common sense: “I think the lower number of hits to the head we have players taking – not just concussion blows, but also sub-concussive blows – if we can decrease those hits as the brain is developing, it can only be a good thing,” Dr. Gray says.

~Read the rest of the interview with Dr. Gray in today’s Journal~

By Bruce Wallace