Heads of the Household

Purkinje's Forest
Image by fred1st via Flickr

I had one of my infrequent encounters with television at the Wintergreen Lodge over the weekend. (I really should make a point to experience an hour or so of TV once or twice a year, because the novelty of what I experience as a naive tube consumer always shocks me into writing something.)

Two unfamiliar British towns were playing each other in soccer as I watched, bored to tears in my motel room last weekend. After all the recent news about traumatic brain injury, the header-balls in this game I was watching really made an impression. I winced involuntarily.

Often, it was a high, arching down-field punt by the goalie that was met at the other end of the field by a player’s unprotected head. The concussive forces have to be significant with such a blow–which, for any individual player, might happen often in a single game, and even more frequently in hundreds of hours of practice.

And while such “benign” blows might not produce any discernible pain or sensory changes in the player immediately, it may be that more damage is done than we have previously been able to prove.

There’s a new (yet to be firmly validated) brain protein test that could find evidence of damage at the molecular level. It would be immediately useful to identify pre-PTSD sub-clinical injuries, or to validate the existence of full-blown Traumatic Brain Injury.

But more than that, it occurs to me, if this test can be perfected and its accuracy confirmed, and if it can be made widely available, it stands to change more than the fate of soldiers.

Imagine a future ruling based on evidence of unacceptable long-term cumulative injury that would ban such traditional American institutions as full contact football, or European and world-wide soccer from the practice of heading the ball?

Knowing this, we made no progress with our attempts to convince our soccer-playing grand daughter to use her head: and DON’T use her head. Maybe you’ll have better luck with the heads of your household.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Do you suppose there is a contact-sport lobby out there rallying forces that could damage your friend’s threat to prevent damage? Precedents are established. Society’s good is not best for everybody and for every good, somebody’s gonna be agin’ it.

    I don’t understand your question as phrased, there before the link (which is included in my sources.)

  2. I think it’s a response to dueling questions that are sloppy use of language.

    “Imagine a future ruling based on evidence of unacceptable long-term cumulative injury that would ban such traditional American institutions as full contact football, or European and world-wide soccer from the practice of heading the ball?” (said Fred)

  3. Having experienced some traumatic head injuries I can tell you that they are no picnic. I’ve had several concussions that rendered me unconscious. Each injury was unrelated, but the effects are cumulative.

    All I can say is that this injury should be avoided at almost any cost.

  4. That was supposed to be ‘Did you see this study…” I need a spell checker that understands context. Just because I spelled everything right doesn’t mean it makes sense!

    From what I understand, the problem my friend is having is that since football is a voluntary activity, NIH doesn’t consider studying it’s health effects a high priority. So they are having a very hard time getting a government grant to expand their research. The football helmet manufacturers have a certain vested interest in remaining unaware of the dangers, so they haven’t gotten much traction there either.

    Football might be safer if we put everybody back in pre WWII era leather helmets. At least it would force them to protect there heads!

  5. I wasn’t suggesting COD was petty. You might have explained where your statement failed to become a question as COD did.

    I agree with both of you as to conclusion. Safer equipment, or seemingly so, doesn’t solve the physics of rapid decelleration of the brain in a cranium. A soccer ball to the head has no immediate observable damage, even though it is reasonable to know that it might, and cumulative effects have been observed.

    We know things and don’t react if it isn’t profitable. Today I was told on the news that one in six automobile accidents are caused by driving while drowsy. We also know that alert distracted drivers are an equal or greater hazard as compared to drunk drivers. I don’t expect to see any policy changes with checkpoints for “How sleepy are you?” or “Let me see your phone to confirm the last time you used it. “