I pretty much ignored Father’s Day until my children started getting hurt. Hurt by earaches and stomach aches and falls and mean children and mean teachers and then–playing sports.
Like Thanksgiving. It was just Turkey Day until I starting thinking how thankful I was for my family. Father’s Day? Thanks for the tie. McDonald’s or Burger King? By the time my kids began getting banged up on playing fields, I began taking a moment to ask myself: am I being the best father I can be?
I’m a neurologist and a psychiatrist. I figured out the first week of medical school that American neurology has its head up its…um…is loyal to illogic. Alzheimer’s disease? Don’t talk about it. It has never been defined biologically. It’s a social construct invented by weak minds to reduce neurologists’ anxiety about their ignorance. Sure, brains change with the passage of time. No two brains have ever done it the same way. Deleterious brain change with the passing of time is completely individualized. Let’s not take six random pieces of the 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle and call them a disease.
“Concussion?” Same thing. Thirty-seven published definitions. Not one of them has the slightest biological validity. So I trashed the received “wisdom” and tried to figure stuff out for myself.
Over the last seven years I’ve been working with the invaluable assistance of 36 internationally renowned experts on concussive brain injury. We came to our conclusions based on re-analysis of 5935 original sources. Frankly, I did not believe my own analyses for the first couple years. But facts are facts. On April 18, 2019 we published the first textbook on concussion (Victoroff & Bigler. Concussion and Traumatic Encephalopathy. Cambridge University Press).
Typical concussive brains injuries are the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is brain rattling due to bodily impact–with or without head contact, with or without any symptoms. Every boy who plays football has is brain violently rattled about 500 to 1000 times each season. Some unknown percent of the more than 2 million boys who play high school football suffer permanent brain damage that may not be obvious until 50 or 70 years later. Is it 6%? 94%? Since the National Institute of Neurologic Disease and Stroke refuses to fund a decent prospective, controlled, 50 to 70 year longitudinal study, and since we have absolutely zero biomarkers that predict long-term outcome, we may never know. But it may be 100%. It’s looking like it’s 100%.
America is not ready to accept this revolutionary truth. Parents who follow the news have surely heard about it. Yet they still sign the damn waiver and ship their kids out to be brain damaged.
One good thing: there are more and more kitchen table arguments. Typically, Dad says, “For sure!” Moms think a bit longer. That can lead to a clash of opinions. Sometimes, the Mom prevails. Their boy’s brain is saved.
The medical truth became obvious about 2012: every child football player is at massively increased risk for permanent brain damage. But few neurologists are willing to say it out loud. Our 2019 textbook says it out loud. It may or may not make any damn difference. Yet it’s part and parcel of the relentless, inevitable locomotive of American history. Child football is doomed. Moms will lead the way. Fathers will not be far behind.
The unconscious sophistry of the parent (usually the Dad)
“He’s seven years old. Of course we know football will damage his brain! But how can we say no? Do you think he cares that he’ll be demented a few years early, say at age 70 instead of 76? And I don’t believe that crap. Look at me! I played four seezons and my barin is sharp as a tick! Little guy wants to do it! What can I do?”
What can you do? Cowboy up. You’re the adult. You’re legally responsible for his health. Say no. That’s that.
It’s nobody’s fault!
Like you know: so-called “free will?” Doesn’t exist. No credible or even plausible evidence has ever supported human individual agency based on self-generated intentions. The self is a passive vessel. The conscious mind receives action instructions after the brain has already sent them to the body. Throw a football? My arm is cocked before my mind says: “Hey! Think I’ll throw a football!”
So the very last thing in the world Americans should do is to blame the fathers. We do what we are told (by our brains; not so much by our wives). We need to save children’s brains from football. We need to pass a federal law outlawing child and college football. It ain’t going to happen for at least a decade. Maybe two. But Americans cannot be fooled forever by Santa Claus, tobacco companies, or the despicable NFL.
Few guys are going to change their minds about football this Father’s Day. Most of us will just be thankful for the tie. But with each coming Father’s Day, more and more Dads will ponder “Am I being the best father I can be?” They’ll get it. In fact, when I publish my forthcoming book for parents, A Child is Concussed, these facts will no longer be medical secrets. The truth will be out there for every Dad in an easy-to-get package. And cheaper than a tie.
There’s also the big picture: duty to country. Helping save the brains of more than 2 million American boys a year? Seems like something a good father might do.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Jim Larrison
Jeff Victoroff, M.D. is the principal author and editor of “Concussion and Traumatic Encephalopathy: Causes, Diagnosis, and Management.” Cambridge University Press, 2019.
The above excerpt is adapted from Dr. Victoroff’s forthcoming book: A Child is Concussed.