San Diego - Parents and coaches are reacting to news that former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau suffered from a brain disease that may have been caused by repeated hits to the head.
Patrick Betancourt coaches football at Mira Mesa High School and once played college ball. That experience has him torn when it comes to letting his own sons play football.
“Got knocked out completely, and then the next week I was already playing, that’s just how we did things back then,” said Betancourt. “Sometimes you get hit again and see stars and probably because you just weren’t really ready to come back so soon.”
Betancourt’s sons, Jackson and Jacob, play baseball and soccer, sports their father feels involve a smaller chance of getting a concussion.
“For them to get hurt at this young age, that’s scary. I mean, head injuries are the scariest things," says Betancourt.
He says he may let his sons play football in high school, because he feels there is a lot to gain from the sport.
Phil Lomax is Commisioner at San Diego Youth Football, a group that he says is working with the National Football League to make the game safer for kids.
“We do pre-concussion testing to kind of set baselines for the young athletes, so if they do sustain a head injury we can go back to their ... test to see if their responses are the same as before,” says Lomax, whose son, Trey, will soon play college football.
Lomax says new guidelines followed by coaches allow practices to be conducted in a less impactful way. Players are taught to avoid head hits and to tackle in ways that are less likely to lead to injury.
“In our youth league, it’s gonna be mandatory across the board,” says Lomax. He adds that the NFL’s Heads Up Program is helping to make the game safer.
Michael Levy is a Pediatric Neurosurgeon at Rady Children’s Hospital. For several years, he was one of the Neurologists assigned to the University of Southern California football team. He has seen a lot of concussions.
“The important point is to minimize these types of injuries,” says Levy.
That means changing the rules and equipment and knowing when to pull a player out of the game and when to let him return, Levy says.
Levy adds that every football player needs to decide whether playing the game is worth the risk.
“Are you willing to trade 15 good years, say you do make it to the NFL, and a lot of money and signing bonuses, for a shortened life, and a significant chance of dementia and a bad life in your late 40’s?," Levy says. "The problem is all of those people will say yes, that’s a worthwhile exchange. “
Levy says Junior Seau would have said yes.
“Seau was an aggressive and physical linebacker playing at a time when head to head contact was the norm, when people were essentially trained to spear, trained to put their head into other people, so despite the real obvious manifestations of him being unconscious on the field, there are many times that he would have had his bell rung and been concussed that may or may not have been recognized,” says Levy.
Levy says there is still little research into why some players , like Seau, are affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CET), while others are not.
“We don’t know how to predict who is most likely from X amount of force to have a bad result," says Levy. "Why did Frazier, who took just as bad a pounding in the ring, have a better outcome than Ali?”