How Young is too Young? Balancing Health and Wealth in Young Players
More and more sports teams continue to allow younger players into their professional ranks. That’s good for individual sports franchises in a couple of ways. Everybody loves to see a young kid shine on the field and compete well against older, more experienced players. It makes us feel good because it appeals to the side of us that roots for the underdog. Everybody loves an underdog. We all identify with an underdog. We also like to see a young kid make good. It makes us feel like maybe there’s still some hope for us, yet.
Youngsters playing professional football (for my fellow American friends, read soccer here if you must) can also be hugely inspiring because they are living examples that prove a poor kid can break into a rich man’s world. Who doesn’t love it when a young kid from a poor family, in a tiny mountain town in El Salvador, makes some money for his family? A lot of these kids start out poor enough that they’re kicking a dented can on a downhill potholed street, because nobody can afford a football. We love it when these kids make good. But, there’s a sobering side to this too.
Americans watching football may have a slightly different take on the issue. We’re so used to our professional teams having minimal age requirements that a sixteen year old kid playing football can be slightly off-putting to us. There are a few reasons for this. If a kid quits school to play football what happens to his education? Unless he’s a young Cristiano Ronaldo who can afford to pay a fortune for tutors, his education is likely to suffer. Without an education, he’s an injury away from poverty. If younger players want to play football and have an education to fall back on, online school may help them keep their options open.
Another factor that complicates this further can be found in some of the ongoing research into the seriousness of concussions. Concussions are always a scary prospect for any player but can pose real problems for the adolescent brain. How concussions affect the brain is a topic that is changing perceptions about the way many Americans view American football.
More and more former players are developing serious problems due to repeated concussions sustained over their careers. In addition to serious bouts of depression and mental health issues, autopsies performed on former NFL players have shown some serious brain scarring.
And if you think that comparing football to American football is unfair; you may be right. If you argue that football is a game filled with finesse while American football is a game for over-fed and unread American philistines; you may be right. But it would be surprising if concussion statistics were a lot lower in football.
Young players who suffer repeated concussions may be at a lot higher risk for future problems. In the last few years, research has shown that the brains of adolescents and young adults are not fully developed until sometime in their early 20’s. 16 and 17 year old kids who are still developing cognitive abilities and who suffer repeated concussions may be at greater risk later in life. Remember, the latest crop of former American football players who are having serious issues now were playing in the 1970’s.