You could argue that the game of football has never been under attack more than it has in the past decade. Many also argue that the game, due to increased awareness and technological advances, has never been safer.
That’s why news from a recently published study from JAMA Neurology should be received as very good news. The study, which you can read in its entirety here, specifically addressed the question: Does playing high school football have a statistically and clinically significant adverse association with cognitive impairment and depression at 65 years of age?
The study looked at folks that played high school football in Wisconsin in the late 1950’s and after running tests, they concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that “playing football had a negative long-term association with cognitive functioning and mental health at 65 and 72 years of age.”
To help put the time period that was studied in perspective, here’s a LIFE magazine cover from November of 1950. Face masks were recommended at the NFL level in 1955, and polymers ended the leather helmet era in the 50’s as well.
The study goes on to point out in the “Discussion” section that:
“Among men who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957, playing high school football was not adversely associated with cognitive impairment or depression later in life. Furthermore, the corresponding 97.5% CIs contain only small positive and negative effect sizes. Our findings are consistent with those of Savica et al,14 who found no differences in the incidence rates of neurodegenerative disease among football players and their non–football-playing classmates in a contemporaneous cohort.”
To be transparent, the study also noted that further research is needed to examine and further understand the risks by position played.
For coaches out there looking for research to share with parents, players, and the community, this is a promising scientific study. The game has changed a ton since the 1950’s and coaches today are more aware of the dangers and concerns now than ever before, and are taking steps to make the game even safer with proper tackling, hydration, concussion protocols, and all sorts of other things.