Letting your kid play contact sports is the definition of child abuse. At least according to Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist whose discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy was portrayed in the Will Smith movie Concussion.
"We wouldn't give a child a cigarette to smoke because a cigarette is potentially harmful," he recently told Today. "But we would put on a helmet on the head of a child and send him out on a field to play a game whereby he sustains repeated blows to his head. Which is more dangerous: a cigarette or a concussion of the brain? A concussion of the brain, of course. If that is not the definition of child abuse, what is it?"
It's a good question, and one Omalu says parents should think about before signing their young kids up for any type of contact sport.
"Knowing what we know today, there is no reason whatsoever that any child under the age of 18 should play high-impact, high-contact sports," he explained, adding that the big six are: American football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts, boxing, wrestling and rugby. Ditto for lacrosse, which Omalu said has one of the highest concussion rates across all sports and shouldn't be played by kids under 18, either.
When it comes to soccer Omalu suggest a no-heading policy for young players.
"Soccer as it's played today should be played by only children who are above the age of 12-14," he explained. "Children younger than that should play a modified form of soccer, whereby there's less contact. Maybe we make the balls bigger and lighter so that there's less accidental injury."
So what athletics are safe for young kids? Low-contact options like swimming, track and field, volleyball, basketball, and tennis.
"We need to develop more brain-friendly, healthier types of sports," Omalu told Today. "We have elevated sports to the level of a religion. We're in denial of the truth."
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To learn more about the danger of contact sport, check out Omaulu's book Truth Doesn't Have a Side.