High School Football: Play or Peril?

On behalf of Robinette Legal Group, PLLC

Consider the case of Cincinnati Bengal Chris Henry. He was a prep football player from New Orleans and a stand-out at West Virginia University. He had difficulties in his private life and run-ins with the law...not an unusual experience for pro-athletes these days. He died at age 26 after falling off of the back of a moving truck during a domestic dispute with his fiancée. His story, though unfortunate, was not entirely remarkable.

That is, until neurosurgeons from West Virginia University performed an autopsy on Henry and discovered that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease known to occur in much older veteran ex-football players and ex-boxers who had received repeated blows to the head over long careers. After just under four years of pro football, Henry's CTE was so advanced as to be comparable with the old pros who develop dementia during the late stages in their lives. But while he obviously endured some heavy hits during his football career, he was not known to have received multiple concussions or extremely severe head injuries.

The findings led the researchers and commentators on the sport to speculate whether Henry's CTE disease may have been behind some of the erratic behavior and impulsive actions in his past. It has also prompted concern about many of the young athletes that play football at both the high school and college level, who may have similar traumatic brain injuries that go undiagnosed.

Researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) and Columbus Children's Hospital recently compared injuries and injury rates between high school and college level football players. The researchers determined that though the injury rate for high school players was roughly half that of college players, high school players tended to be more severely injured, receiving greater numbers of concussions and fractures -- injuries typically deemed "season-ending."

In light of the research on Chris Henry's experience and CIRP's research results, institutions like the NCAA and state high school leagues may want to consider additional conditioning protocols or revising the rules to protect football players, especially certain high-injury positions like running backs and linebackers. Parents and football coaches should be on notice of the dangers that young athletes face. Although Henry's CTE has not been definitively linked with his behavior, it appears that even relatively short football careers might create hidden time bombs waiting to go off that can be extremely serious and life-changing.

If your child has been injured playing youth sports, in high school sports or in a recreational league, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your child's case. You may have options.