Handle with care

Handle with care (Dori OConnell, Getty Images)

But McCambridge was less forgiving of my helicopter parenting.

"You can't look at the outcome (mood disorders or Alzheimer's in aging football players) and say it was from concussions," she told me. "You have to wonder if people are confusing causation with correlation." She explained that it could be due to use of performance-enhancing or other illicit drugs, or a pre-existing condition. "We need more data."

McCambridge, whose son plays football, gave me some perspective, explaining that kids can get hurt doing anything. I'll attest to that. I've broken bones skiing and never regretted a day on the hill. I take my kids skiing too.

But still, my big issue with contact sports is the intent to hit other people. Hard hits are often the objective, though the tide may be changing.

Last fall, the book "Concussion and Our Kids," co-authored by Dr. Robert Cantu, chief of neurosurgery for Emerson Hospital in Massachusetts, called for a ban on tackling in football, heading a soccer ball, or body checking in hockey for those under 14. The book received coverage by CNN, Time and Slate.

Parental opinion is mixed. Last fall, a poll of 300 fathers who had played football — 60 percent of whom had experienced football concussions themselves — by the nonprofit arm of i9 Sports found that 77 percent felt tackling was safe for children under 12.

Conversely, last summer ESPN conducted a survey of more than 1,000 parents and found that 57 percent were less likely to let their children play football because of the risk of concussion.

A recent poll of Canadian hockey parents by the Rick Hansen Institute found more than 80 percent favored a ban on checking for kids ages 11 to 14.

I'm raising active kids who run, cycle, ski, swim and do martial arts. I don't regret keeping them out of contact sports, but I won't tell other parents what to do. How much you bubble-wrap your own kid is an individual decision.

Just one

Even a single concussion appears to cause changes in the structure of the brain that may make cognitive problems and depression a higher likelihood, a new study, published in the journal Radiology, has found.

The study, which used 3-D MRIs to compare healthy subjects' brains with those of patients a year after a mild traumatic brain injury, indicated that those with such injuries had shrinkage in brain regions that are key to memory, executive function and mood regulation.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist.