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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and Child Athletics


Physical activity is essential to one’s health, and playing sports is an excellent source of physical activity. Playing sports is not without risks or consequences, however. Players can get hurt in various ways. One such injury or risk associated with playing sports is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). USA Today recently reported that more and more college-age players are showing signs of the disease, and some studies have shown that the beginning stages may come even earlier.

What is CTE, exactly?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a progressively degenerative disease resulting from repeated and recurring brain trauma such as concussions. Symptoms and effects of this disease include amnesia, unpredictable and unusual behavior, paranoia, dementia, depression, and aggressive behavior. Generally speaking, people with CTE have an abnormal amount of a protein called tau in their brains, and tau overload often floods the sections of the brain that regulate memory, decision-making and the like, thus incapacitating said sections of the brain. There are four stages of progressive degeneration, and the worst stage is obviously stage four, as it essentially reduces the victim to a shadow of his or her former self. But the severity of each symptom like amnesia and aggression determines how severely CTE affects each individual.

CTE and children who play sports

CTE could mean various things for child athletes. It could mean that their parents forbid them to play. In fact, some individuals advocate outlawing contact sports like football, hockey, and soccer for players younger than 18, thus forbidding children to play at all. Some parents advocate outlawing child participation of contact sports because they fear CTE, want more genetic and medical information on what exactly leads to CTE, and believe a ban on contact sports to be the safest course of action at the moment. However, other parents believe prohibition would hinder a “child’s social and emotional development” significantly.

But whether society benefits from removing risky behavior is unclear. When participating in football and other contact sports, children gain a risk-assessment ability, which they use to gauge their abilities and those of their teammates who are there to aid them in possibly winning the game. This risk-assessment ability and dependence on teamwork carries over well into adulthood. Arguably, without childhood risky behavior, adults would not be capable of making rational, mature decisions about their safety – and we would not have nearly enough firefighters or service people to defend us. Besides: no conclusive scientific evidence concerning the long-term impact of child risky behavior and linking said behavior with CTE currently exists.

But that does not mean all of the changes wrought from the fear of CTE are bad. It means new rules, equipment, and safety measures. For example, they could be required to pace themselves and drink plenty of fluids, especially water. After all, careful physical activity and hydration likely help reduces concussions or other brain injuries for child athletes. Or they could be required to submit to a thorough medical exam after a concussion or another injury, regardless of severity.

At Stipe Law Firm, we help people get the help they need after a serious injury. If your child has sustained a traumatic brain injury because of another person’s negligence, our McAlester TBI attorneys want to help. Please call (918) 505-7741 or fill out our contact form, and discover why families throughout Oklahoma have put their trust in for the last 60 years.