Dan Schultz has three boys who all love football.
His oldest, Andrew, is a wide receiver at Bryant College, and his second son, Liam, is on the Eastchester (N.Y.) High School varsity roster. His 10-year-old, Aidan, also loves the sport but, like his brothers, his father won’t allow him to play until the seventh grade.
Dan Schultz is concerned about safety.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it, but they like (football),” the father said. “They love the camaraderie of the game, the team aspect of the game. I think that’s something that a lot of guys carry forward in life.”
But the game may have other lasting effects.
Last month, a study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association that concluded participation in football is associated with the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease.
In a sample of 202 brains of people who had played football at some level, donated and examined posthumously, evidence of CTE was found in 177 of them.
The research reinforced a growing pool of evidence that suggests playing the sport regarded as the country’s most popular could pose a long-term health risk, at a time when participation has gradually declined.
But while the study caused a momentary commotion across the country, scholastic football coaches, parents and players in the Hudson Valley have been largely undeterred, as teams prepare to begin official preseason on Monday.
Love of the game, and the lessons it can teach on and off the field are among the reasons players remain between the sidelines with their parents’ support.
Coaches point toward updated tackling techniques and practice regulations as safety precautions that can reduce the likelihood of a player sustaining a concussion.
And some school administrators maintain that, as long as those guidelines are successful in keeping students safe, and interest within their districts remains high, they will continue devoting taxpayer money to the sport.
The methodology of the study has also led some in the football community to question its conclusions, and the study’s senior author, Dr. Ann McKee, cautions the 202 brains represent “a highly skewed population. These brains were donated by family members who, in almost all instances, were concerned about their loved ones.
“This is not representative of American football players as a whole, as a general population, because most of the football players in our study played football at a very high level, that is college or above, and so the results cannot be applied to the general population,” she said in a video comment that accompanied the study, published July 25.
Still, of the 14 players in the study who stopped playing football after high school, three were diagnosed with low-level CTE. And many who play scholastically do so in the hopes of playing at those higher levels.
Of those in the study who stopped playing after college, 48 of 53 were diagnosed with CTE. And of 111 former NFL players, 110 were diagnosed.
The study, titled “Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football” was conducted at Boston University’s CTE Center over an eight-year span.
Symptoms of the disease include memory loss, aggression, impaired judgment, lack of impulse control and depression. The most common cause of death (27 percent) among those with mild stages of CTE included in the study was suicide.
Last season, 31,470 high school students participated in traditional, 11-player football in New York, and 1,059,399 across the country, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ annual scholastic participation survey. Those totals have gradually declined. In 2007, 38,354 students in New York and 1,109,511 in the country played the sport scholastically, which represents an 18-percent drop in the state, and a 4.5-percent decline in the country.
Rob DiNota learned about the recent study on Twitter. But the senior quarterback at Westlake High School in Thornwood said he isn’t giving it much thought.
“I don’t read a lot about CTE,” he said. “I just play and hope for the best. If there’s ever a situation where I do feel like I’ve sustained a head injury, I’m quick to tell the coaches and we take care of it the right way.”