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Repetitive hits, concussions, and a mother’s long goodbye to youth football – Chicago Tribune

“There is never a good enough reason to hit a child in the head 500 times for a sport.”

The brutal honesty in Chris Nowinski’s words slaps me across the face. A Harvard-educated former pro-wrestler with a PhD in behavioral neuroscience, Nowinski is the founder of Concussion Legacy Foundation and one of the leading voices on post-concussion syndrome and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players.

On this night, Nowinski was a guest on my sports radio talk show in Chicago, and what had begun as a conversation about the latest research in CTE in NFL players had quickly morphed into discussion of the drawbacks of youth football. As a mother of two sons, both of whom played youth football, this a touchy subject for me. And as the phone lines light up with parents who want to defend their child’s team, league, coaches, it’s clear I’m not alone.

For the last several years of my son’s travel football career, parents were reassured by various leagues and coaches that safety was their paramount concern. First came the presence of “concussion spotters” on the sidelines. Each child was required to have a baseline cognition test before the season started. Any kid who looked woozy after a hit was immediately pulled from the game and checked by a trainer, and often sent to the E.R., because better safe than sorry. Then came the new “anti-concussion” helmets. For $299, parents could protect their children from hard hits to the head. And really, how could we say no to that? Finally, the safety program Heads Up Football became all the rage.

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