Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive brain disorder that is believed to be caused by repeated head injuries, particularly in high-impact sports. Decades of research have shown the risks of traumatic brain injuries and longer-term brain degeneration from repetitive hits are significant, and recent media attention is starting to change public perception. The mounting lawsuits against sports organizing bodies and the undeniable scientific evidence are accelerating the awareness of the dangers associated with these sports. This has prompted some experts to argue that allowing under-18s to participate in high-impact sports should be viewed as a form of child abuse and legally prohibited.
The Risks of High-Impact Sports
High-impact sports like boxing, American football, and rugby have long been associated with repeated head injuries that can lead to CTE, as reported in The Conversation. Studies have found CTE in former players, including amateurs and those under 18, proving that sport-induced brain trauma can lead to degenerative brain disease. It is important to note that any changes to the brain morphology can contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders. This raises concerns about the long-term effects of playing high-impact sports at a young age, as highlighted in a study in JAMA Network Open.
Child Safety and Consent
Recent academic evidence and medical professionals agree that allowing children to participate in high-impact sports should be viewed as a form of child abuse. One argument is that children are unable to consent to sports that require brain trauma as a necessary component. This has been compared to other activities that are prohibited for children, as they can result in physical harm or exploitation.
The Role of Governing Bodies
There is growing pressure on sports governing bodies to better protect players from permanent injury caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows. Former professional rugby players Alix Popham and Lenny Woodard, who were diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE, are among over 450 current and former rugby players taking legal action against global governing body World Rugby and national governing bodies for negligence. They argue that the current head injury protocols are insufficient, as highlighted in a report by CNN.
Fears and Facts About CTE
While the fear over CTE has grown, as reported by ESPN, it is important to understand that the narrative about CTE has outpaced the science. The research suffers from a selection bias based on a specific sample of NFL players, and there is still no way to diagnose CTE in the living. However, efforts are being made to address this issue, such as the launch of the National Sports Brain Bank.
Non-Impact Sports: A Safer Alternative
As an alternative, experts are recommending non-impact versions of popular sports. These alternatives, like touch rugby, can provide similar social and health benefits without the harm from brain trauma. This approach prioritizes children’s safety over corporate sporting bodies, aligning with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’s mandate to protect children from physical or mental violence.
In conclusion, we must prioritize the safety and well-being of children when considering their participation in high-impact sports. Greater awareness, stricter regulations, and safer alternatives are crucial in protecting our future generations from the devastating effects of CTE and other related brain disorders.