Sioux Falls to continue football amid health concerns

By Patrick Anderson, Associated Press | Posted - Jan. 7, 2016 at 3:21 p.m.



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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — High school football isn't going away in Sioux Falls, despite recent concerns from two Minnesota doctors about the game's effect on children and teens.

Links between football and life-threatening head trauma has forced rule changes at the highest level of the sport. The topic has drawn national and regional attention, with a million-dollar ruling for an Iowa high school student last year and last month's release of "Concussion," starring Will Smith.

Now, Minnesota-based physicians have penned an editorial calling for the end of tackle football programs at public schools. But Sioux Falls high schools won't be slashing football just yet, as rules continue to evolve for the sake of player safety, Superintendent Brian Maher said.

"My answer would be, today, we're certainly not ready to pull the plug on that," Maher told the Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/1ITp9GD ).

The editorial authored by Dr. Steven Miles and Dr. Shailendra Prasad was set to run this month in the American Journal of Bioethics, and is already available online at www.bioethics.net.

Miles and Prasad criticized a recent article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which acknowledges the increased likelihood of concussion among youth football players, but suggests schools address the problem by enforcing safety rules, decreasing tackling and following best practices.

The doctors' response: "Public schools should end their football programs because of the high prevalence of concussions."

Between 5 percent and 20 percent of student athletes in football will suffer a concussion in a single season, according to Miles and Prasad. Middle school-age students will sustain about 240 head impacts each season. The number soars to 650 per season for high school players.

Brain injuries caused by playing football can lead to poor performance in class for weeks following the incident, as well as headaches, absenteeism and memory problems, according to research highlighted by the doctors.

"Evidence about the effect of youth football is evolving but is sufficient to show that school football is likely to adversely (affect) school performance in the short term," they wrote.

Research is limited when it comes to the long-term effects, said Dr. Verle Valentine, a sports medicine physician for Sanford Health.

He questioned the Minnesota doctors' proposal of banning the sport from public schools.

"Certainly there's lots of injuries in football, but there's also lots of injuries in other sports, too," Valentine said. "The vast majority of patients who have concussions recover nicely in a few weeks."

Problems that caught the National Football League and inspired a Hollywood film came from studies done of former NFL players, who played the game into their 30s, Valentine said.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE is the focus of "Concussion," about the Pittsburgh doctor who discovered the condition while analyzing the brain of a dead player.

Repeated concussions caused by head injuries can lead to damaged nerve cells in the brain, which can cause changes in emotion and behavior later in life.

In addition to being the Sioux Falls public schools chief, Maher sits on the state's high school activities association. His son plays professional football.

Rule changes implemented by the NFL in the wake of CTE have trickled down to public school teams, Maher said.

Maher believes the sport is important to students because of the kind of learning that can happen in athletics, including teamwork, sacrifice and time management.

"One of the quotes I gave to my kids growing up was if you don't take life lessons away from the activities you're involved in, you're simply engaged in recess," Maher said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Argus leader

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Patrick Anderson

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