I attended a Grand Rounds on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the NFL earlier this year given by neuropathologist Dr. Daniel Perl. It was eye-opening for me. Despite all the recent media attention given to cases of NFL players being diagnosed with the disorder post-mortem (usually following untimely deaths due to suicide or bizarre "accidents"), it hadn't really penetrated my consciousness. But to see the actual images of abnormal tau protein staining in these relatively young brains - heaps and tangles similar to Alzheimer's but in slightly different locations - well, it was chilling. Even more chilling was hearing about these findings in younger players, those without years and years of professional-level play. Including those without many (or any reported) concussions. I started thinking about all of the children in the US who play tackle football and wondering: When are these changes happening? Why aren't we talking about this re: children? How many mothers might not realize that their children could be sustaining irreversible injuries that only manifest many years later? This. is. huge.
I debated whether or not to write about the issue. On the one hand, I felt passionately that discussing these issues was a matter of public health. Yet, I also weighed this against the likely backlash from football supporters and the kinds of personal attacks that commonly happen on the comment pages of online media forums.
In the end, I decided that this was too-important of an issue not to write about, stick and stones notwithstanding. My op-ed is in today's USA Today. Would love to hear your thoughts (including dissenting!), mothers in medicine, about this issue. Do you (would you) allow your children to play football? Do you think developing CTE is a reason for concern in kids? What do you think should be done to protect kids who play? Pediatricians, do you discuss this with your patients/parents?