Concussion group criticizes OHSAA, NFHSA for article claiming ‘no links between CTE, high school football’

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DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – An article written by the National Federation of High School Associations and posted on the Ohio High School Athletic Association website has led to criticism from one of the country’s expert groups on concussions and CTE.

No Linkage to CTE from playing high school football,” was written by the National Federation of High School Associations executive director Karissa L. Niehoff and posted to the OHSAA.org website on Wednesday, Oct. 16. The story was critical of a public service announcement from the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which was based on a study from Boston University that encouraged parents not to enroll children in tackle football until high school.

Niehoff’s biggest criticism was a line in the video: “Tackle football is like smoking, the younger I start, the longer I’m exposed to the danger.”

“Our concern is the term ‘exposed to danger.’ These types of messages continue to spread unwarranted fear to parents of high school student-athletes,” Niehoff wrote. “The ‘danger’ refers to reports that players who incur repeated concussions can develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“Regardless of the outcome, however, they are not applicable to kids playing football before and during high school. There is absolutely no linkage to CTE at these levels, and the word ‘danger’ should not be a part of the discussion.”

Niehoff is missing the issue on CTE and football, according to a press release from the Concussion Legacy Foundation, and from Chris Nowinkski, CEO and co-founder of the institute.

“It’s only fair to tell these families they are getting exposed to CTE the more you play tackle football at any age,” Nowinski told WDTN.com. “If they wrote, there is no significantly-seen risk from only playing high school football, I would say that’s a fair statement. But there are kids putting on helmets at four years old in some places. To make it sustainable we have to say youth tackle football is not appropriate.”

In a release, the foundation cited the Boston University study and said the correlation between years playing football and CTE risk is stronger than years of smoking and lung cancer.

“(This) is why we were comfortable developing a PSA that shows youth football players smoking cigarettes,” the release stated. “Our point is that with this new data, we should look at both smoking and tackle football as inappropriate for children. … We cold prevent future CTE cases by shortening careers and the logical way to shorten careers is to delay when children begin playing.”

The study stated the odds of developing CTE increase 30 percent per year after the player’s first season and double every 2.6 years.

“Nobody should play high school football without believing they aren’t putting themselves at risk for CTE,” Nowinski said. “The benefit may outweigh the risks as a group, so the question is what headline should we be telling families.”

Niehoff wrote new concussion laws heave led to repeat concussion rates dropping across all sports.

An FAQ page on Boston University’s website states CTE is likely caused by repetitive brain trauma – both concussive and sub-concussive hits to the head that may show no trauma.

“I don’t think we should be telling people that CTE is correlated to concussions, we don’t have that data,” Nowniski said. “We also don’t have any reason to believe concussion laws have had an effect on CTE. They’re still great and they take down the risk of post-concussion syndrome, but that has nothing to do with CTE.”

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