'Schumacher ski crash highlights sport secret on head injuries'

Wednesday 8 January 2014

“The dreadful predicament of Michael Schumacher - he remains in an induced coma as I write - is focusing attention on the whole issue of sport and its links to brain damage, including dementia,” write Richard and Judy for the Daily Express.

“While we pray for his full recovery, questions are being asked about a growing number of dirty little secrets in the sporting world.

For example, what could be more all-American, healthy and hearty than that country's football culture? Generations of highschool kids have crashed and banged their way around the college football field, confident that their extravagant helmets, shoulder pads and body armour will protect them from serious harm.

They were wrong. American football is in deep crisis since dozens of former NFL players - the country's top league - were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a dementia-linked brain condition that can be a direct result of multiple concussion. Last year the NFL settled an eyewatering $765million (£468million) on a lawsuit brought by brain damaged former players, many with dementia.

In the last two years the number of teenage boys playing American football has dropped by a whopping 10 per cent, their parents deeply concerned about brain injuries caused by trauma to the head during repeated jolting tackles.

Evidence piles upon evidence. One veteran player committed suicide with a gunshot to his chest, saying he wanted his brain to be studied. Sure enough, it was found to be exhibiting the classic symptoms of CTE.

Of course the use of helmets in all sporting activities unquestionably reduces the severity of brain injuries. In a thoughtful article this week, Beverley Turner, wife of Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, who was almost killed while cycling and struck from behind by a truck, said the helmet he was wearing that day undoubtedly saved his life. Beverley has become an expert on bike helmets, explaining that impacts to the skull are "four times less" when head protection is worn. A helmet's liner absorbs the shock and spreads it over a wider area of the skull…

In a pithy message to cyclists who demand the "personal liberty" to choose not to wear a helmet she observed: "I promise you if 'personal liberty' matters to you, not being able to take yourself to the lavatory on waking will come as a real shock."

So a resounding "yes" to helmets, obviously. But as the Schumacher case proves they offer limited protection (indeed Cracknell suffered horrendous brain damage and has never been the same since his accident)…"

Read the full column at express.co.uk and keep up to date with all of their latest articles here.

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