THERE’S EQUALITY IN SPORTS INJURIES
There’s Equality in Sports Injury I happened to come across a study yesterday. It was a study of the human brains of a number of young men who had all died before age thirty-two. Scientists kept the brains in large freezers especially for this type of testing. Half of the stored brains belonged to young men who took their own life. Forty percent of them were found to have CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This, I read, is a degenerative disease caused by repetitive head trauma. Most of the brains belong to football players, and less than five percent belonged to women. These men had athletic skills, futures, loved ones, and dreams. Now they were only specimens for scientific observation. The study caught my attention because my sons and daughters played club soccer well into their teens, and my youngest son, now coaches men’s soccer at UC Irvine. Scientists are starting to see that women are now also at the heart of head-trauma issues because most of their stories have gone untold and their damage has not yet been investigated. Many women athletes simply suffer in secret following head trauma. They drift away from their game and become changed persons. They may feel humiliated because they never really healed from a concussion or similar trauma. Their lives are forever altered off their former course. Top soccer players such as Megan Rapinoe, Amy Wambach and Brandi Chastain have recently pledged their brains for study when they die. A landmark 2017 decision by the AMA showed that CTE was considerably higher in football players than in the rest of the population. One hundred ten of one hundred and eleven players examined had CTE. The study showed that there were proteins found in high levels of the brains of people with CTE. These proteins formed clumps and killed brain cells. A similar study of the deceased New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez, showed he had CTE. He took his life in prison while incarcerated for murder. The NFL protested the studies saying that these studies were “trying to ruin football.” Studies of women athletes are in the very beginning stages. Scientist feel they have every reason to believe that an accumulation of hits that rattle the brain, whether a concussion is diagnosed or not, may have a different and possibly greater impact on women. Women have thinner and weaker necks, making them more susceptible to concussions according to Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Research is slow in developing in part because female athletes like soccer players are just now reaching the ages of forty-five or fifty, where long term consequences would be felt from reoccurring hits to the head. Women have only been full-time athletes since 1972 under Title IX. In 2016, the U.S. Soccer Federation banned heading before age ten and limited heading for children ages eleven to thirteen for thirty minutes per week. Prior to that girls and boys could head the ball as often as they wanted and as young as they were able, during the time that their brains were developing. A study by Dr. Michael Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine recently disclosed that heading can alter cognitive function, but seventy-eight percent of the subjects were male. CTE and the danger of concussions have become public knowledge mostly because of football. Most people associate brain trauma with football. Women’s soccer does not yet have the examples of high-profile football players to point to for study purposes. There isn’t necessarily a priority on how things affect women. There is some light however in reaching toward equality for women in sports, there is a landmark study beginning in October by SHINE, (Soccer, Head Impacts, and Neurological Effects). The purpose of this study is to examine twenty former women’s soccer players over age forty who have played at the highest level to compare their findings to those of other studies involving neurodegenerative disease in men and women. I guess you could say that such a study is one small step in positively affecting the whole issue of inequality in sports and why women are not paid equally as athletes. More importantly, for these women who are currently playing sports and for those who will play in the future, we need to know how repeated hits affect them beyond their performance in sports which includes all aspects of their future health and cognitive ability.