Earlier this week in my adult language II class, we started to discuss traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the impact this can have on speech, language and communication. We went through the definition (an alteration in brain function, or other evidence of brain pathology, caused by an external force), the different types of TBI (closed head or penetrating head injuries), and the various causes (falls, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, and other unknown causes).
It was our discussion of the causes of TBI that led to an interesting conversation, mainly about what the “Other” category of causes might be. The discussion turned to sports as a possibility. Sports, especially contact sports such as hockey, football, and boxing/mixed martial arts are big business in our society, and pull in millions of dollars per year in revenue. However, while it may be easy to measure out the financial value of each player, it may be more difficult to assess the cost of the health related concerns that arise from the constant injuries (especially of the brain) that athletes face in their line of work.
Knowing what we know about what can happen to the brain, and as a result of this injury, the cognition, memory, and communication impairments that can occur, it can be difficult to watch hockey players, boxers and other athletes involved in contact sports take blows to the head, especially when you count up the number of deaths that result from head trauma directly caused by sports. A statistic quoted by the American Association of Neurologic Surgeons (from the Journal of Combative Sport) put the number of boxing related deaths over 50 years at 488, with 66 percent of these deaths resulting from head, brain or neck injuries. Many hockey players miss games because of concussions (which are still classified as traumatic brain injuries, albeit a milder version), many retired boxers are being diagnosed with dementia pugilistica (a condition caused by repeated blows the head, with symptoms such as declining mental ability, problems with memory, and Parkinsonism, tremors, and speech problems), and there have been at least 7 deaths of individuals involved in mixed martial arts fighting.
With that knowledge in mind, it’s easy to understand why some medical professionals have called for bans on sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts, and increased regulation of instances of fighting in hockey. The Canadian Medical Association is currently calling for a ban of boxing and mixed martial arts because of how damaging they can be the brains of those involved. It’s a position that has created controversy on both sides of the issue, especially on the topic of MMA. Proponents of the sport argue that it is no more dangerous than any other sport, while physicians who are treating players and fighters injured by the sport warn of the dangers of even getting repeated concussions, a condition that doesn’t externally manifest until the injury has build up to the point of brain damage.
So what do you think? With our advancements in how well we understand the brain and our knowledge about what can happen is injured, should we be calling for bans on sports such as MMA and boxing? Should we have more carefully enforced rules to keep athletes safe and free from brain damage? Or is the best course of action to educate athletes on how repeated traumatic injuries to the brain can affect their later cognitive and communicative abilities and let them decide the best course of action? Should the public health care system be burdened with preventable TBI cases that might arise from sport? Where should the line be drawn?
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