High School Football Coach, Doctor Weigh In On New CTE Study

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A recent study is catching national attention. The Journal of the American Medical Association found a neuro degenerative brain disease, known as CTE, in 99 percent of studied brains from deceased NFL players. Experts say the disease is caused by repetitive blows to the head, which can happen to many athletes playing football, but a local doctor says not all players should be too concerned just yet.

It’s no secret that tackling and football go hand in hand. But whether the hits have long-term effects on the players, especially high school players, that’s still a bit of a mystery.

“Everyone that’s played college football, high school football; what percentage of those players have CTE, we don’t know that yet,” says Dr. Thayne Munce with the Sanford Sports Sciences Institute.

Dr. Munce says there’s an obvious difference between the risks of head injuries on the professional level versus high school level football.

“The average number of years that the NFL players played, was 15,” he says. “That’s much greater than most anyone will play. High school player is typically only playing for four years or less and that’s a much lower exposure.”

But there’s another factor; coaches and leagues are heading toward a safer game.

“Things have changed drastically,” says Kurtiss Riggs with Riggs Premier Football Academy. “When I was playing, you just didn’t care or hear about concussions; or if you did have one, you got back out on the field.”

Now, there are new techniques to avoid head injuries like concussions.

“Keep your head out of the way and use other parts of the body for contact,” explains Roosevelt High School football coach Kim Nelson. “We still want to be physical and we want to hit each other, but were not looking to hurt anyone. We’re not looking to make a big show I don’t think, I hope not.”

Coaches are also avoiding unnecessary tackling. In a seven on seven tournament in Sioux Falls, there was no hitting. Instead a player was considered down with a simple touch.

“You can work skill development without having the contact,” says Riggs.

“It’s something that may play into the findings of the current study, that in the past, the treatment and care of concussions probably wasn’t as good as it is today,” says Dr. Munce. “So hopefully these numbers won’t be as high in the future.”

This doesn’t mean local coaches are discounting the latest study or the danger of head injuries.

The Roosevelt coach says the findings help his staff become more cautious with their players.

“Because of the attention the sport has gotten with concussions, we’ve done more to fix it than other sports have,” says Coach Nelson. “I really think football is going to become one of the safer sports, at least safer than it has been in the past.”

“It’s becoming a safer game,” agrees Riggs. “But it’s going to be a work in progress.”

CTE can only be diagnosed after death.

Dr. Mince says that’s why experts don’t know just how prevalent CTE is among current football players.

“There’s going to continue to be more studies and more research,” says Dr. Munce. “We’re going to have a better understanding about how other things like family history and substance abuse, and other lifestyle activities interact with this type of disease. So there’s a lot left to learn.”

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