Youth Sports Safety: What Do You Want to Know?

Autopsy results for Ray Easterling, who committed suicide this year, showed that he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. (Photo Credit: Local Ozarks)

This week the Federal Trade Commission settled a case prohibiting Brain-Pad, Inc. from claiming that its adult and junior mouthguards help prevent concussion.

Thanks for making it harder for parents to figure out how to keep their kids safe, Brain-Pad. But good news: I’ve got the chance to ask Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League, all your questions about youth sports safety!

According to a press release by the FTC, Brain-Pad made their claims about the mouthguards’ concussion-protecting qualities on product packaging and in Internet and print advertisements.  On packaging for the Brain-Pad Pro-Plus Junior mouthguard, the defendants claimed the device “creates new brain safety space!” and “Reduces Risk of Concussions!  From Lower Jaw Impacts.”  Similarly, packaging for the adult-size Brain-Pad Double Mouth Guard proclaims that the device, “Reduces risk of CONCUSSIONS! Protects Upper AND Lower Teeth!” The mouthguards retail for $10 to $30.

“Mouthguards can help to shield a person’s teeth from being injured, and some can reduce impact to the lower jaw,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  “But it’s a big leap to say these devices can also reduce the risk of concussions.  The scientific evidence to make that claim just isn’t adequate.”

Creates extra brain space? What the hell does that even mean? The Brain-Pad website currently claims the product instead provides “TMJ Safety Space” for the jaw. Um, okay. I couldn’t find any clinical evidence of this offered on their website.

The FTC’s announcement came within weeks of news reports that former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who committed suicide in April, did indeed have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease widely connected to athletes who have absorbed frequent blows to the head.

Earlier this month, opinion writer George Will wrote a scathing column for the Washington Post, titled “Football’s Problem With Danger on the Field Isn’t Going Away.” The column’s chilling opening lines were:

Are you ready for some football? First, however, are you ready for some autopsies?

Prior to Mr. Easterling’s death, he was listed as one of more than 3,000 plaintiffs, consisting of retired players or their relatives, in a class-action lawsuit against the league seeking to hold it accountable for players dealing with lasting head trauma. Mr. Easterling’s widow, Mary Ann Easterling, now takes his place in the lawsuit.

It’s enough to scare any parent away from sports altogether.

Many states have implemented new laws governing youth football and other sports, in an attempt to prevent injured kids from returning to the game too quickly, but it’s clear that there’s still room for improvement in youth sports safety.

This Wednesday, I have the opportunity to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; USA Football Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck; Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, Board Certified Neuropsychologist and Head Injury Consultant to the Chicago Bears; and Kelly Sarmiento, Health Communications Specialist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Besides hearing what they say about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and sports safety reaching from youth football to the NFL, I’ll have the chance to ask them questions.

What should I ask them? What are your biggest concerns for your kids’ safety in sports? This can be for any sport, not just football. 

In the comments below, let me know what sports your kids play, and what your concerns are. I’ll do my best to get every question answered!

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