Headed for Trouble

BU scientists are renowned for their research on concussions suffered by NFL veterans. Now their studies are raising alarming questions about the true dangers of high school football.

In the end, the onus must be on the players. Budden, the BC High lineman who suffered three concussions during practice, admits that if any of them had happened during the rush of a game, he likely would have stayed on the field. But he also says he knows that would have been foolish. When it comes to reforming football’s intractable tough-guy culture, this counts as progress. BU is responsible for the shift in attitudes, and larger measures in the state, too. Last spring, McKee’s team testified on Beacon Hill. The result was a new state law mandating that all concussed high school athletes get a doctor’s okay before returning to play, and that players and coaches receive annual concussion education.

Nobody at BU is saying high schoolers should quit playing football yet. But each advance the researchers make moves the conversation away from the long-term dangers of concussions to the dangers of playing football, period. “It may be that human bodies are just not meant to run into each other at these speeds,” Nowinski says. “We have to remember that before we invented helmets, the types of hits we have on the field would kill people. Just because we survive now and don’t see any blood doesn’t mean the body isn’t dying on the inside.”