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Local Sports

August 7, 2013

LINDLEY: Collision sports are at crossroads

Fans must weigh sideline thrills against player safety.

It’s time for a return to some old-fashioned, smash-mouth football, which is a good thing unless you happen to be the one getting smashed in the mouth, I guess.

The violent nature of the game, which is built around high-speed collisions and jarring tackles, sells tickets. But perhaps at no other time have players, coaches, fans and administrators been more worried about football’s inherent dangers, especially those linked to traumatic brain injuries.

Concussions are a hot topic in all sports — not just on football fields but any playing surface. Not just for boys and men, but also girls and women. But in few sports are head injuries as much of a focus as they’ve become in football.

We fans live and die with each heart-pounding play, but football is a vicarious experience that comes with a heavy price. We’re attracted by the game’s fierce nature but worry about its brutality, fearing the players have become too big, too strong and too fast.

The deaths of several high-profile National Football League stars — Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson and especially Junior Seau, who committed suicide — have created a frenzy. Among the most concerned are parents who question if allowing their children to play football and other impact sports is the right thing to do.

“We get the Junior Seau question a lot. ‘Is that what my kid is going to be like?’” Dr. Michael O’Brien of the sports concussion clinic at Boston’s Children’s Hospital told The New York Times. “Parents are sitting in our office wringing their hands with nervousness.”

The bad news is that concussions are serious injuries, and reports show more and more athletes are being treated for them. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that emergency rooms treated 173,000 temporary brain injuries related to sports or recreation among youth less than 19 years old. Worse yet, the CDC reported, hospital visits rose 60 percent in the previous decade.

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