Researchers aim to protect young minds amid fears over concussion

Global Business

The NFL season begins this Thursday. But there are concerns about its future at the grassroots due to toll the game can take on players health in later life. Reducing those dangers early is behind a pioneering study.

CGTN’s Owen Fairclough reports.

The rough and tumble play of a new youth football season underway in Virginia.

Maybe too rough, according to a spate of recent research into the long term health effects of concussions caused by repeated blows to the head.

Youth leagues like this are where the future stars of the NFL are found. But the number of young players has been declining in recent years. And that’s been blamed partly on parents who think the game is too dangerous for their children to play.

Reducing the risks in the millions of children who play at this level is at the heart of a pioneering study at Virginia Tech, involving local team Blacksburg.

Their helmets are fitted with sensors that monitor in real time how often and how hard they’re struck to look for a possible concussion. It’s the first research of its kind.

“We can look down the field and see ‘that looked like a big hit’ and then we can look down at the screen and kind of confirm that,” said Virginia Tech Research Assistant Ryan Gellner. “Hits over 40Gs of linear acceleration, those are some high risk, high magnitude accelerations. And that means anything over that threshold could be a risk for some kind of injury.”

And this is what 40Gs looks like in the lab where Professor Stefan Duma collates the data.

But stronger, faster and heavier college players and professionals sustain blows at least twice as hard

“Right, once you get to 100Gs, especially the lower side of the jaw like that, that would be an appreciable risk of concussion,” said Virginia Tech engineering professor Stefan Duma.

Concussions from blows like that have been linked to player suicides and domestic abuse blamed on the degenerative brain disease CTE. The doctor who diagnosed it, and his fight with the NFL over his findings, were the subject of the 2015 movie Concussion.

Stefan’s study is focusing on reducing these risks at the grassroots level.

“One of our first publications in this space really shows that you have to change practice to make it more like the game,” said Duma. “Kids are actually getting bigger hits in practice rather than the game. There’s a lot of work we can do there to minimize that risk.”

Back on the field, Blacksburg lost its opening game of the season.

Those monitoring these young hopefuls hope they can find a way to win without losing their health in later years.