Children, Football, and the Age of Consent

Concussion researcher raises interesting point about children, football, and consent

Individuals must reach a certain age before they can legally consent to participating or otherwise engaging in a number of activities, ranging from buying cigarettes, joining the military, to exercising the right to vote. But what about participation in sports, specifically those that lend themselves to frequent, violent contact, i.e., football, or rugby, to name a couple of examples? Should children give their consent to play those sports, and thus assume the risk of suffering potentially life-changing brain injury, including concussions? Should those who participate be of a certain age so they can agree to play the game with full knowledge and understanding of the potential consequences?

Children should not play football or other high-contact impact sports without giving consent to the risks involved.

Yesterday, we discussed the highly-anticipated release of Concussion, a movie documenting the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who found the connection between CTE (a destructive, degenerative brain disease) and football, specifically with the repeated head trauma and concussions suffered by former professional football players. As a result of his research as well as that of other scientists over the past decade, more light is being shed as to the dangers surrounding high-impact sports, important conversations are taking place across the country about the risks involved, whether they can be diminished, and – for parents thinking about letting their children play football or other contact sports – whether or not the dangers are worth it.

Dr. Omalu suggests that children should not be allowed to play until they can legally consent.

His reasoning is simple. The brain fully develops between the ages of 18-25 years. Should a child’s parents be the ones to determine to put their child at risk of developing “major depression, memory loss, suicidal thought and actions, loss of intelligence as well as dementia later in life?” Should our society be so accepting of this form of child endangerment, wherein parents make this potentially life-changing decision without allowing their child to have a say in whether they want to incur such a risk?

Concussion Awareness for Michigan Student-Athletes: The Sports Concussion Law

While there’s no age of consent in the football /high-impact contact sports context in Michigan, our state does have a sports concussion law that seeks to educate both parents and young players about the risks involved in these types of sports, particularly with regard to brain injuries. Among other things, the Michigan Sports Concussion Law, which went into effect in June 2013, requires some of the following:

  1. That parents and their children receive educational materials about concussions and other head injuries that might be sustained while playing high-impact contact sports;
  2. That coaches and other adults supervising those playing these sports are properly trained so they may recognize concussion symptoms and may act accordingly, which includes pulling children off the field if they have suffered or are suspected of suffering a head injury;
  3. That students are not allowed to engage in or return to physical activity with written permission from an appropriate health care professional clearing their return; and
  4. That an electronic concussion awareness training program be created, which would include information about: the nature and risk of concussions; criteria for the removal of a student athlete from play if they have suffered or are suspected of suffering a head injury, as well as the circumstances under which said player may return; and the risks involved in failing to alert coaches or other adults supervising play of a suspected concussion or brain injury

The issues of the concussion risk associated with football and how we can better protect our youth from its effects are ones that we will continue to grapple with, especially as research continues to highlight the obvious risks involved. What do you think of Dr. Omalu’s proposal? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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