A Minneapolis neurosurgeon turned heads last week when she told the Star Tribune that she supports high schoolers playing football and believes that research has not proven the sport to be a unique cause of concussion-related brain degeneration.
“I think, if your child wants to play football, you should let them play,” said Dr. Uzma Samadani, whose son plays at Breck School. “It’s a risk/benefit situation, and the risks are far lower than the benefits.”
For football fans, it was long-awaited validation amid calls from other medical professionals to ban or restrict high school football due to concussion risks.
“Yes,” exclaimed a football mother who is a Facebook friend. “If you are considering allowing your child to play football please read this in addition to all the negative hype. There are two sides to every coin.”
Safety advocates are upset that football organizers didn’t confront the risks sooner. Football organizers worry that the concussion scare is drawing athletes away.
The Minnesota Department of Health has been a leader in paring through the rhetoric. For the past two years, the department’s injury prevention unit has tallied high school sports concussions as reported to them by a sampling of athletic trainers.
The 261 football-related concussions reported by trainers at 39 schools in 2014-15 was the most for any sport, but that was partly due to the large number of players.
With fewer players in girls hockey, the 49 concussions in that sport resulted in a concussion rate of 6.85 per 100 athletes. Football had the second highest rate at 5.77, just ahead of girls basketball — which won’t surprise anyone who has watched girls basketball. The battle for rebounds and jump balls can get ferocious.
Point being, it oversimplifies the problem to make football the sole target of concussion concerns. Heck, there were five concussions last school year in Nordic racing.
But footballers can’t pretend the risk in their sport is no greater than others. The numbers say it is riskier.
“The last thing we want to do is drive people away from sports participation, because of all the benefits that are out there,” said Leslie Seymour, a state health epidemiologist who led the analysis. “Its more a matter of looking at what can be done for prevention.”