TRIAD, NC -- Two new studies from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center might make you think twice about signing your kids up to play football.
Doctors analyzed high school and youth football players and the impact that the game had on their brain.
They found that kids who have a history of concussion and high impact exposure undergo brain changes after just one season of play.
Both studies analyzed the default mode network (DMN), a network of brain regions that is active during wakeful rest.
In the first study, researchers studied 26 youth football players without history of concussion to identify the effect of repeated subconcussive impacts on the DMN.
In the second study, 20 high school football players were studied – five had experienced at least one concussion, and 15 had no history of concussion.
All players were outfitted with the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) for an entire football season.
HITS helmets are lined with accelerometers or sensors that measure the magnitude, location and direction of impacts to the head.
Impact data from the helmets were used to calculate a risk of concussion exposure for each player.
But even with growing concern about concussions and brain injuries, there's no shortage of players ready to take the field.
For parents like Richie Jeffries, just watching his son practice is a thrill.
"It makes me proud watching him wear that blue and gold," said Jeffries. “I think this is the greatest sport that these kids can play. It teaches them everything about life.”
His son is a linebacker for the Reidsville Rams.
Instead of worrying about his son suffering a concussion, Jeffries says he’s more focused on supported the team in its quest to win a state championship.
“It doesn't worry me,” said Jeffries. “Today, with the new technology they have with the helmets and stuff like that and the coaches watching them and the protocols in place, I don't worry at all.”
Ricky Proehl knows all about head injuries from football.
He played wide receiver in the NFL for 17 years including three seasons with the Carolina Panthers.
“I think a lot of it is guys trying to make the highlight reel or making the Sunday SportsCenter with the knockout shot,” said Proehl. “You're always going to have the risk because it's a contact sport. I think it something that we understand that risk every time we take the field.”
Proehl has two sons currently playing college football and possibly on their way to their own NFL careers.
Safety on the football field is a family conversation they’ve had multiple times.
“It's no different then when they first got their license and got behind the wheel of a car,” said Proehl. “You do your best in educating them on how to play the game and the safety of the game and how you can avoid big hits.”
Proehl says the new technology in the equipment that football players use today has helped curb brain injuries but he says the best method of prevention is education.
“Getting these young kids to go back to the basics and learn how to tackle and not with your head,” said Proehl.
At the high school level and in most youth football leagues, coaches have to be first aid certified and go through training on how to deal with head injuries before the start of every season.
To read more about the concussion study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, click here.