I AM A BRAIN SCIENTIST AND I LET MY SON PLAY FOOTBALL
By Dr. Peter Cummings
My name is Peter Cummings. I am a forensic pathologist and a neuropathologist, which means I study brain trauma for a living. I am also a football coach and I let my 11-year-old son play football. I may be the only neuropathologist on Earth who lets his kid play football.
Coming to this decision was a serious undertaking and the result of many hours spent pouring over medical journals and football rulebooks.
Before I began this journey, football was banned in my house. I wouldn’t even watch it on TV because I didn’t want my son to see it and develop a desire to play. Despite my efforts, he discovered football via a video game. He immediately fell in love with the sport and I was forced to do some serious soul searching: Should I allow him to pursue his interest and play?
Honestly, I was scared of CTE.
CTE stands for “chronic traumatic encephalopathy”; in real words it means damage to the brain caused by repetitive injury. The hallmark of CTE is the deposition of a protein called ‘tau’ in the brain. Tau has a number of functions, including stabilizing the structure of nerve cells. When nerves are injured, tau builds up and can cause problems.
You may have a read about a recently published paper reporting the presence of CTE in the brains of 99 percent of former National Football League players examined. The findings of this study sent the media into a frenzy and produced a lot of negative press toward football. As a result of the media attention, people are now saying there should be no more youth football; there are even people who are insinuating I am abusing my son by allowing him to play football.
People are coming away from the constant media barrage with the belief that concussions are the sole and direct cause of CTE, most or all football players have CTE, and CTE has led football players to become violent, commit suicide or develop dementia.
I had the same impression before I decided to look a little deeper. But when I dove into the published literature regarding CTE, I discovered the scientific evidence to support the media’s narrative was lacking; in fact, I found bodies of evidence to the contrary and a whole other side to the science that is largely ignored.
I’m not alone. A number of members of the medical and research communities are also voicing serious doubts about the current state of the science linking concussion and CTE.
In fact, it’s not entirely clear if CTE is unique to traumatic brain injury. CTE-like pathology has also been seen in the brains of people who’ve died of epilepsy, without any history of head trauma. There are also cases of opioid overdose deaths where the brains show signs of early aging, including tau accumulation. This might suggest other mitigating factors make some people more prone to developing CTE than others.
Replication and independent verification are two crucial steps in the scientific process. Yet many findings associated with CTE haven’t passed these tests. Contrary to what appears in the headlines, multiple researchers have found no significant relationship between playing football and increased risk of violence, suicide and dementia in the general football playing population. In fact, studies have shown a lower rate of death due to violence and suicide in NFL players as compared to the general population.
None of these studies make headlines, let alone even footnotes in most media reports. So when headlines state “CTE found in 99% of brains from deceased NFL players,” it only fuels people’s fear of CTE. They are assuming, like I did at first, that 99 percent of football players will get CTE.
But one has to be careful about interpreting the headlines, and I will tell you why:
The study population in the most recent CTE paper represents a biased sample, as stated by the authors themselves. This means only the brains of self-selecting people who displayed neurological symptoms while living were studied. This is important because this sample was not a reflection of the general football population. The study was based on 202 brains out of the millions of people who’ve played football – 111 of which are former NFL players.
So, when you hear “99 percent of football players had CTE,” that doesn’t mean that almost every football player will get CTE, and it doesn’t mean your child has a 99-percent chance of developing CTE if he or she plays football. It means 99 percent of a specifically selected study sample had some degree of CTE; not 99 percent of the general football population. This is an important distinction.
Because of this sampling bias, we cannot estimate the prevalence or incidence of CTE (meaning the total number of cases and the number of new cases expected each year in football players); nor can we establish risk or a cause-effect relationship between head injury and development of CTE. To do that you need a randomly selected population comprised of people with the disease and people without the disease.
In other words, we do not have a complete picture of what causes CTE, how common CTE is, or what the chance of getting CTE may be for anyone, or even what symptoms, if any, CTE causes.
Most of the published CTE cases are from former NFL players. How football might affect the brains of our youngest players, including my son, is a question the research hasn’t answered yet.
Despite the lack of cases and evidence, some in the concussion research field have stated children shouldn’t play tackle football until high school. Some people are even calling for the end of youth football all together.
They have bolstered their opinion with a paper published in 2015 concluding former NFL players who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 were more likely to experience long-term neurocognitive problems. However, a more recent study of retired NFL players published last year by a different group at Vanderbilt University found no association between age of first exposure to football and subsequent adverse neurological outcomes.
Other research groups have not found a significant link between playing high school football and an increased risk of later-in-life cognitive deficits.
Two separate papers from the Mayo Clinic failed to show an increase in dementia among former high school football players as compared to other athletes and non-athletes who attended high school between 1946-1956. Another study, released in late August, also failed to show cognitive deficits in former Wisconsin high school football players from the 1950’s.
People may argue that football was different in the 40s and 50s and that today’s players are stronger, faster and hit harder. But one also has to consider that football was more violent back then, with little attention to safety. Certainly the equipment provided less protection.
Football is a sport in crisis, and it is so, at least in part, because the sensationalized media coverage is causing a false impression of the strength and validity of the CTE science. The news is terrifying athletes at all levels. Every time an athlete forgets their keys or has a headache, they’re scared it’s CTE.
The story of former NHL player Todd Ewen is a sad example of how this fear has resulted in tragedy. Todd suffered depression which he believed to be the result of CTE and was untreatable. Sadly, he committed suicide. Even before an autopsy could be performed, the verdict was in: CTE was the culprit. However, the subsequent autopsy failed to detect any sign if CTE.
The fear of CTE can affect on-field performance, as well. I spoke with one NFL player last year who said after our talk, “You mean it’s not 100 percent I will get CTE?” I told him no. I was informed later that he felt relieved and his on-field performance thereafter improved significantly.
Concussions are not unique to football; they are seen in hockey, rugby, soccer, water polo and even synchronized swimming. By focusing so much attention on football, other athletes who may be at risk are slipping through the cracks, including girls. Current data suggest in sports in which both boys and girls participate (such as soccer and basketball), girls have twice as many concussions as boys. No one knows why.
The surprising gender discrepancy and the lack of adequate representation of athletes from other sports in the current research makes me wonder if the debate is more about an aversion to football than it is about concussions.
Many of the news stories give the impression football has done nothing to protect players and the sport has been sitting idly while waiting for more proof. But, football has responded proactively to the perceived concussion crisis by implementing innumerable rule changes to promote player safety.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are unaware of these changes. A recent poll by the University of Massachusetts Lowell reported that 46 percent of parents had no idea what their youth sports organizations or school athletic directors were doing to promote safety in their respective sports. This knowledge gap probably exist to some degree because rules changes aren’t sexy news.
I am not paid from a grant studying CTE; I have no association with the NFL. I have one motivating factor: my son. I whole-heartedly support the ongoing CTE research. Although I have no affiliation with any CTE research labs, I have directed the families of deceased athletes to CTE studies. I also directed a friend of mine, who is a female rugby player with post-concussion issues, to a CTE study. I decided to coach so I could stay informed about the constantly evolving rules changes in football. I made the decision to allow my son to play football after long deliberation over all the facts. To suggest this decision is child abuse is preposterous. I am a forensic pathologist, a neuropathologist, and a dad, and I let my son play football. That should speak volumes.
[Editor’s Note: Yahoo Sports reached out to Dr. Ann McKee, director of the Boston University CTE Center, to offer a platform to reply to the points specifically raised in this op-ed. Neither McKee nor Boston University responded with an answer.]
Dr. PeterCummings is board certified by that American of Pathology in anatomic pathology, forensic pathology and neuropathology. He is an Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine. He has been recognized as a medical expert by courts of 24 States and six different countries. He is the author of two forensic pathology textbooks. He lives outside of Boston with his wife, son and dog.
AMA STUDY ON CONCUSSIONS AND FOOTBALL.......MUST READ!!!!!!!!
Dear Rockville Football League
USA Football would like to let you know of a study recently published by the medical journal JAMA Neurology, a publication of the American Medical Association.
This study focused on long-term effects of playing high school football. The results may be of interest to you, your peers and your league's parents.
The study, which may be read by clicking here, examined later-life cognitive impairment and depression among 3,904 former high school football players who graduated from high school in 1957.
The research indicates no significant differences in these areas between the former high school players and their peers who did not play high school football. In addition, the football-playing students showed no increased risk of anger, anxiety, hostility, or heavy alcohol use.
These results are similar to those of a Mayo Clinic study published in December 2016, which examined a smaller population of men who played high school football. This study found no increased risk of dementia, Parkinson's Disease or ALS compared to a non-football playing group. More information on this Mayo Clinic study resides here.
The JAMA Neurology study has significant strengths in that it includes a large sample of students and was carefully controlled for important variables.
However, while the study indicates cognitive decline is not associated with playing high school football, it did not track which players had concussions and sub-concussive injuries, to see if those players had more negative outcomes in aging. There may be a subset of football players who do experience long term negative outcomes in aging.
It is also important to note that the authors point out that many aspects of the speed and power of the sport have changed since the 1950s, though it could also be argued that rules and equipment modifications have evolved for the better as has knowledge of how to diagnose and treat concussion.
Where:Mattie Stepanek Park in King Farm ( Home of the RFL )
1800 Piccard Dr. Rockville, Md. 20850
What:A premier contact football camp directed by Good Counsel Varsity Head
Coach Andy Stefanelli and staffed by area high school coaches. Also , featuring many of the area’s top High School and College players as camp counselors.
Program:Emphasis will be on age appropriate fundamentals, techniques and advanced skills for those with experience. Daily speakers will promote attention to school, sportsmanship, character and winning attitude.
Equipment: Camp will provide helmet, shoulder pads, mouth guards and practice jersey. Campers will provide football pants, pads and cleats.
Amenities: Snack bar will be open nightly, including grilled burgers and hotdogs. Mattie has plentiful parking and great seating for families to watch the fun.
Fees $325 - plus $40 equipment rental fee (if needed) for non RFL players. Registered RFL players do not pay to rent equipment and may keep the equipment for the upcoming season.
Team and Group discounts available !!!!
More Info:Email “We Hit” Camp Administrator Guy Stefanelli @ email@example.com or Camp Director Andy Stefanelli @
"I very much appreciate all you are doing with the kids. As I was telling many of the parents I met on the sideline, the passion and care you and the We Hit staff demonstrated with the kids was unbelievable. It wasn’t just “pay me $300, take a t-shirt and have a nice summer”…it was as if you were preparing for a game on Friday and truly trying to make each and every kid better! Awesome."
Dr. Andrew Fields
Camp Director Andy Stefanelli - Good Counsel Freshman Head Coach
Here are 7 Awesome Reasons Why Kids Should Play Football
Here’s a summary of 7 awesome reasons why kids should play football. Take these benefits as a way to recruit kids in your community and educate parents on the benefits that come from participating in youth football.
Here is why kids should play youth football:
1> It’s Fun. Having fun is what youth football is all about. Yes, it is possible to have fun even if you are having a losing season. It always starts at practice. Coaches should focus on making practices fun. Throw in a fun activity or two during the practice week to change things up. This will allow kids to enjoy themselves and it will keep them interested in the sport. Competitive, up-tempo, organized, and enthusiastic practices will keep kids interested.
2> Develop New Skills. Playing youth football requires children to communicate with both teammates and their coaches. Teamwork is probably the most important skill that is learned by playing football. Teamwork is a trait that these kids will need to carry into teen and adulthood. Youth football will also assist in the development of social skills, which is necessary to be successful in not just football, but in life as well.
3> Making Friends. Playing youth football will allow kids to make new friends. Playing football will help develop team chemistry and a sense of brotherhood. These friendships can last for a lifetime. Also, for the most part, they will be making friends that are also on the right path.
4> Develop Competitiveness. Life is about competition- whether it is playing a team sport or applying for a job. Nothing is given to you in life so it is important that kids learn how to work hard and compete for everything. Set goals and work competitively towards them is what youth football should be all about. Kids need to learn to always compete and set high goals for themselves. When I say “competitiveness”, I do not mean “winning at all costs”. It’s all about effort.
5> Become Physically Fit. Football will require kids to take part in physical fitness. Our country’s obesity rate is at alarming levels. This is primarily because of poor nutrition (fast foods) and the growing interests and developments of video games. Kids play video games, but the kids that are addicted to them are the ones that rather stay inside on a nice day and play games. If it is a nice day, kids should be outside playing. Kids need to stay active and participate in sports and recreation. Football is a physically demanding sport that will have the kids exorcising every practice and game. There is no other sport that teaches physical fitness better than football.
6> Keep Children Busy (and out of trouble). Playing sports will help keep kids busy after school. Participating in youth sports and recreational activities will help keep the kids busy and out of trouble. It will keep kids in a controlled, structured, and positive environment. It will also get the kids in good physical condition and it will keep them away from those unproductive 6 hour long video game sessions. Keeping kids busy and out of trouble is one of the best reasons why kids should play youth football. No other sport will require more commitment and DISCIPLINE.
7> Safer Game. The game of football has never been safer. Coaches are now required to take various safety classes on proper tackling and blocking techniques. Many leagues also implemented rules that don’t allow teams to do live tackling for more than 1/3 of the practice. There are also certain stupid ‘old school’ football drills that are now banned. The evolution of equipment also makes the game much safer. Equipment is getting better. Coaches are becoming more educated. The perception of concussions in football is exaggerated. Many times people compare the NFL to youth football, which is absolutely ridiculous. The ‘old school’ win and hit at all costs is dying out. The younger more educated coaches are beginning to take over.
The NAVY and ARMY (Pony, PW and INT) tiered system does not impact Registration.
You will still register for the appropriate Division and if you are a Returning Player the right team.
Middle School Football League (MSFL) players should select Fall 2016 Middle School Sign-Up.
We will place you on the appropriate team.
About Practice & Registration
New families to the RFL often ask about location and dates of practice. This is a team specific issue. All teams practice within the Rockville/Potomac/Bethesda area. Please see Franchises for more information. Schedules and game days are also outlined in this area.
Returning Players are those that played in the RFL in the Fall of 2014 or Fall 2015 and siblings. Priority for Returning Players ends on June 1.
If you are a Returning Player and the team you played for last year or the team you are supposed to move up to is full there is now a Waiting List Option. This also applies to New Players who request a team that is full. We will place New Player on the Waiting List if they request a full team.
If you choose to register and be placed on the Waiting List you will be notified by July 15 if there is room or another team has been established. If there is still not room on your desired team you can
1. Request a refund (less the $25 processing fee),
2. Be placed on another team or
3. Stay on the Waiting List to see if a spot opens up (no refund with this option).
There is still a good chance you will make the roster if you are registering before June 1.
Waivers for medical reasons must be initiated by a letter from a physician stating the medical condition that requires the request. Size and/or age in of itself will not qualify for a Waiver: RFL MEDICAL WAIVER FORM 2016.pdf
RFL Waiver Forms must be submitted to apply for a player transfer from one team to another. Players must register for the team that they have played for in past years before applying for a waiver. All waiver forms must be submitted before June 15th.
Waivers to move to a different team will only be approved if the General Managers of both organizations and the Commissioner agree or if a player was assigned to a team other than the one requested because it was full or merged into the previous season due to roster space. The waiver will then be submitted to the RFL Executive Committee for final approval. To have a Waiver considered you must first register for the team you are supposed to play on and then follow the instructions for submitting Waiver Requests.
Instructions - Fill out the form below and email to the commissioner of the division you will be playing in for this season. RFL TEAM WAIVER FORM 2016.pdf
Spring Flag teams and coaches have no bearing on Fall team assignments.
Middle School Unlimited League Players
You will be placed based on Montgomery County High School Clusters. Private school students will be placed on a Montgomery County team that serves the cluster they live in. You must meet the following criteria to play in the Middle School League:
You must be entering the 8th grade in the fall of 2014.
OR Exceed the maximum weight restrictions of the Intermediate Division of the Rockville Football League. (currently 195 lbs.)
OR Any 7th Grader that has a minimum of two (2) years of tackle football experience.
First Time Registering Online?
"New Players" - when you enter the Registration System you will be create a new account if it is your first time using the system.
"Returning Players" - If you played in the RFL anytime since 2013 you will be a and always use the initial account you created, in fact all of your information will be there and the process will take about 2 minutes. If you want to register another family member that has not played before you will access the account you created for the first family member and almost all of your information will already be entered.
If you see box next to your child's name that says "INELIGIBLE" , either the information in the system is incomplete or the child does not meet the qualifications required to play in that division.
Click on the box, make sure all required areas are completed and accurate and then retry.
The Registration Fee Refunds and Discounts.
Refunds: The League Fee, City Cost Recovery Fee, Registration Process Fee and Credit Card or eCheck Fee is in one lump sum. 100% refunds less the Processing Fee and Credit Card or eCheck fee ($25.00) will only be issued until July 15. There will be no refunds after July 15.