June 20, 2024
New study shows players have a 61% greater risk for Parkinson's Disease or having disease-related symptoms.

Every parent whose child plays tackle football should be aware of the newest study of the risks.

Medical researchers for decades have known of the link between boxing and Parkinson’s Disease. The sad decline of Muhammad Ali is the most prominent example of the devastating impact of a disease that currently afflicts an estimated 500,000 Americans.

Now a study published Friday by Boston University researchers working with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research shows that participants with a history of playing organized tackle football have a 61% greater risk for Parkinson’s Disease or disease-related symptoms. The longer an athlete plays, the greater the risk. Those competing in college and the NFL had nearly triple the odds of later developing Parkinson’s compared with those who played only youth or high school football.

The findings add to the growing case that tackle football should be banned at all California public schools.

At the very least, the California Interscholastic Federation, the state governing body for high school sports, should take additional steps to improve safety and reduce the threat of repeated hits to the head during practices and games. As the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, California is the only state that doesn’t mandate that high schools provide an athletic trainer or have licensing, training requirements and regulations in place for them.

The Boston University study is of special concern given that high school football participation in California increased last school year for the first time in nearly a decade. The CIF reported that 89,178 students played in 2022-23, 5.4% more than the prior year.

Football remains, by far, the most dangerous high school sport in the United States, with an average 25.5 injuries per 100 players a season. An alarming 12% of those injuries involve head trauma, meaning nearly 3,000 California high school players can expect to suffer injuries involving head trauma this fall.

Parkinson’s is just one of the potential long-term effects. In June, a National Institutes of Health-funded research team reported in the publication Nature Communications its findings on the relationship between repeated head impacts on the football field and the development of severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

In 2013, the National Football League reached a $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research. More than 4,500 former athletes — some suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s that they blamed on blows to the head — had sued the league, accusing it of concealing the dangers of concussions.

The NIH team found that every additional year playing football was associated with a 15% increased chance of a CTE diagnosis. Those with CTE had a 14% increased risk of severe CTE. The study also showed that every 1,000 additional blows to the head increased the chances of a CTE diagnosis by 21% and of developing severe CTE by 13%.

The findings follow 2018 research results in the neurology journal Brain that repeated hits to the head for young football players doubled the risk of problems with behavior regulation, apathy and executive functioning and tripled the risk of clinically elevated depression.

Not every high school football player will suffer a serious head injury. But parents should be fully aware of the true risks involved. The alarming number of head injuries caused high schools across the nation to drop boxing as a high school sport. Football should be next.

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