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Concerns Arise Over Youth Sports as CTE Study Reveals Impact on Athlete Brain Health


Sep 7, 2023

An increasing number of parents in Arizona are concerned about the risks associated with youth football participation, leading to a decline in participation rates. The growing awareness of head injury dangers in recent years has contributed to this trend. Despite efforts to protect players, the alarming damage caused by collisions raises questions about player safety. The NFL experienced an 18% increase in concussions in 2022, with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s head injuries being a prominent example.

A recent study from the Boston University CTE Center adds to the concern surrounding head injuries. The study found that among 152 brains of contact sports athletes who died before reaching 30 years old, over 41% were diagnosed with some form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Of particular concern is the impact of head injuries on youth development, as the majority of studied brains belonged to amateur athletes. Among the 63 former athletes diagnosed with CTE, 71.4% were amateurs. Diego Mastroeni, an Associate Research Professor at Arizona State University, highlights the increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases and conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s in teenage brain development.

In Arizona, parents are expressing their concerns, significantly impacting participation in contact sports, especially football. According to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, 68% of parents were willing to let their children play football in 2016. However, this number dropped to 47% four years later, indicating the growing influence of emerging information. Research shows that repeated blows to the head cause the most severe brain damage, rather than a single significant collision. Athletes often fail to notice the smaller hits, which can be more damaging in the long run.

Diego Mastroeni has a personal connection to the issue, as his brother Pablo Mastroeni, a former MLS player and current head coach, suffered two concussions in a short period of time during his playing career. Pablo’s experience with insomnia and frequent headaches following the concussions emphasizes the need for taking head injuries seriously and seeking improved protection. Soccer, a sport that is growing in the U.S., is also seeing an increase in head injuries. The Boston University study found that over 17% of soccer players showed signs of CTE, including a rare case in a female player.

Diego predicts that as soccer continues to grow in popularity, there will be more CTE cases in the sport, with a higher number of women being diagnosed due to biological factors. The increasing prevalence of head injuries raises concerns about the potential downsides of participating in sports. Sports often provide opportunities for underrepresented individuals to pursue a better life, adding complexity to the decision-making process.

Diego emphasizes the importance of providing everyone with information about head injuries so that families can make informed decisions. While he believes that knowledge is power, he recognizes that individual families have the final say in deciding whether to allow participation in contact sports.

By Editor

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