Commentary, Local Commentary

Editorial: Task Force Sought to Study Football-Brain Impacts

Our owner-editor Nicholas F. Benton has announced this week that, with the beginning of another school year, he will petition the Falls Church School Board to establish a task force to look into the implications for students of new reports of the link between tackle football and chronic, including fatal, brain injuries and diseases. A study out last week from the Boston University’s CTE Center identified a link between effects on the brain of repetitive head impacts from tackle football and not only the deadly “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE) but also now, the degenerative neurological disorder known as Parkinson’s Disease.

According to the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area, Parkinson’s is second only to Alzheimer’s Disease as a degenerative brian disorder. It is described on their website as “a slowly progressive disease, which causes a gradual loss of the nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Because dopamine carries signals to the part of the brain that control movement and coordination, decreased dopamine levels lead to the cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: Resting tremor, generalized slowness (bradykinesia), stiffness of the limbs (cogwheel rigidity), as well as other motor manifestations of Parkinson’s disease such as small handwriting, decreased facial expression, soft speech, and difficulty swallowing. As the disease progresses, postural instability develops, resulting in a slow, imbalanced shuffling gait, which can result in falls.”

Repetitive head impacts from tackle football that have been tied to long-term neurological consequences, like CTE, as have been reported repeatedly in the News-Press. But there hasn’t been much research on the link between tackle football and Parkinson’s disease. “Playing tackle football could be a contributing risk factor to Parkinson’s, particularly among people already at risk due to other factors,” said corresponding study author Michael Alosco, associate professor of neurology at Boston University Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine. “However, the reasons for this relationship are not clear and we also know that not everyone who plays tackle football will develop later-life neurological conditions, meaning many other risk factors are at play,” he added. In the study, the researchers looked at 1,875 sport participants — 729 men who played football, predominantly at the amateur level, and 1,146 men who played non-football sports who served as the control group.

Benton said the latest study results reported this week coincidentally corresponded with news that a lifelong friend of his, now in his 80s, a college football star on the west coast, has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “We often discussed the possibility of his suffering some or other form of neurodegenerative disease that could be revealed as he grew older,” Benton said, “but actually now confronting this diagnosis comes as a terrible, terrible blow.”

“Given the great value placed on knowledge and learning in the Falls Church School System, it seems acutely ironic that such a potentially neurologically-damaging practice as tackle football continues to be so popular at the system’s Meridian High School,” Benton said.