Should Your Kids Play Contact Sports?

On today’s show, Sanjay Gupta told Dr. Oz that one of the major changes he expects in medicine in the next year was a change in football – and that it would never be the same. The data is in: Repeated hits to the head cause long-term brain dysfunction, called CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Mehmet and Sanjay both said this pertains not to just football but to many sports, such as cheerleading, soccer, boxing, and synchronized swimming. These are all sports where repeated hits to the head cause injuries.

The brain needs time to heal. After concussions, athletes try to get right back in the saddle. But you wouldn’t do that with an ankle break, right? You wait till it has healed fully so you can take another knock or twist without reinjuring it. But is time all that is needed to prevent CTE or permanent injury? And what about soccer players who do not have evidence of a brain injury or loss of clear thinking, but suffer long-term injury from their sport? How do we stay safe and keep the fun in sports, so we can enjoy physical activity without the risk? Right now, we don’t know the answer to these questions.

I asked Mehmet if he was going to stop his son from playing football. He replied no. Or his daughter from playing basketball? He replied no, again. Would I stop my son or daughter from playing soccer? No. We’d do things like that probably after the first loss of consciousness. 

But are we doing the right thing for our kids? Let’s look at this like medicine – team sports like soccer have benefits and risks. The benefits include learning how to be part of a team and how team performance is more important than individual success. And kids get to develop a love of play, and of physical activity.  Should such learning be limited to a tennis or golf team? I’d vote against that. Do such benefits outweigh the risks of a potential brain injury? Are Dr. Oz and Lisa, and Nancy and I doing the right thing? What will Sanjay Gupta and his wife do? What would you do?

-Young Dr. Mike Roizen, The Enforcer