Researchers Study Long-Term Effects of Head Injuries - 8 News NOW

Researchers Study Long-Term Effects of Head Injuries

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LAS VEGAS - An increasing number of NFL players say repetitive blows to the head have destroyed their brains. Researchers say children who play tackle football face similar threats of brain damage.

Public figures are also weighing in on the topic. This week, President Obama said if he had a son he would think long and hard before letting him play football.

Some players in the Super Bowl agree. Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed said he understands the concerns. He said he would help educate his child about the dangers of the sport, but ultimately let his child decide for himself.

Neuroscientists at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health are looking at active and retired athletes who have taken repetitive hits to the head. This is one of the biggest studies on concussions in the world.

The doctor who leads that research says overwhelming evidence shows repeated hits to the head over time causes a loss of brain cells and brain damage.

"We don't know the answer to should kids start playing football and at what age? We do know, though, that they receive impacts as severe as somebody who's in high school and even pro," said Dr. Charles Bernick with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Las Vegas valley youth football leagues run year-round. Some leagues allows children as young as five-years-old.

As many as 2,000 kids are signed up to play this spring for the National Youth Sports League. League owner Mike MacLeod says they have strict policies against kids taking off their helmets during the games. If there is any type of head injury, the player has to sit out for the rest of the day. The league also has other rules in place to protect its players.

"The biggest one is our youngest age group has no kick-offs," MacLeod said. "There are no kick-offs, so we don't have the kids running downfield at each other. We also have things like frozen punts, where the kids aren't moving during a punt. We don't want a kid to go and kick a punt and get hit by someone else."

The league also recommends kids start with flag football - the non-contact version of football - before stepping on the field to play tackle football.

Brain doctors say helmets help, but they protect from injuries to the skull more than the brain. When a kid gets hit, the brain still moves around while the skull is protected.

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