BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It’s a question parents across Indiana are asking themselves: is football safe for kids to play?
Professors at Indiana University hope to find the answer. They’re studying high school players to learn more about the effects of repetitive hits.
“We’re studying the repetitive sub-concussive impacts, and what is that going to do to their brain health longitudinally,” said Keisuke Kawata, an assistant professor at the IU School of Public Health. “There’s actually no evidence showing it’s bad, or how bad is it or how safe is it. We need some evidence-based data.”
This season, nearly 30 players on the football team at Bloomington North are being studied. Every game, every practice, and every hit is being recorded, with each impact registered by a special mouth guard.
“It’s going to be charged overnight, every single practice, every single day, so that it can detect in real time those impact data that can be shown later,” Kawata said.
“Before the season, each player in the study had an MRI along with blood and saliva tests, eye tests and more. At the end of the year, they’ll take another look with a full season of personalized hit data to go with it.
“The point of the study is to figure out can we get to a place where we have some policy recommendations around making sure football is a safe sport for kids to play in their high school years,” said Jon Macy, another assistant professor in the IU School of Public Health.
Like many parents, Macy wrestled with the idea of letting his son play football, but in the end he decided it was a good opportunity. His son is currently on the Bloomington North team and is part of the study.
Overall, Macy feels football is a healthy activity with an array of benefits, however like a pitch limit in youth baseball, he wonders if there are any changes needed to make the game safer for kids.
“One of the goals of this study is can we get to a point where we say this number of hits as a threshold is safe. Maybe after a kid sustains that many hits over the course of the season they need to take a break,” Macy said.
This year is just the pilot study. The team of professors hopes to soon have a study spanning multiple teams over multiple years. That way they can provide important data and hopefully answers about the safety of high school football.
“My expectation is that we get some data to help us determine good ways to keep football safe,” said Jesse Steinfeldt, an IU professor who’s also a football coach at Bloomington North. His son is involved in the study. “I think the things we can do to help football become the great sport it always has been will be helped by this study.”
The study is using the high school’s cross country team as a control group.
The data from the mouth guards are is sent in real time to an antenna and computer in the press box. Coaches can see time stamps and the level of impact a player received on each hit. It can also monitor the number of hits a player sustains in practices and games.