A Discussion on Risk Tolerance: Traumatic Brain Injury From Contact Sports

Every day we opportunity to reflect on our decision making processes and how we determine our risk tolerance. We make choices every day and should continue to practice asking questions, thinking through our decisions and the results. And not just the good outcomes, but also what’s lost.

With that, there’s a fascinating Ask Me Anything (AMA) happening on Reddit today about new research by University of Oxford Professor Seena Fazel on the long-term outcomes associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Some of you know that I suffered a TBI at age 16. I fell from a stunt during cheer practice the summer before junior year and fractured my skull. My back of my head smacked cement hidden under a thin layer of rubber, forcing my brain forward, causing a large contusion and blood on the brain. The blood absorbed without surgery, thankfully, but I was in bad shape. I missed the first six weeks of school, working with a home teacher in between regaining my focus and balance.

I spent most of my time resting, waiting for my sense of smell/taste and my balance to come back. And it did. I was told if I ever hit my head like that again, the sensory issues I dealt with could become permanent. I never saw a psychologist or counselor during recovery. I felt some pushback for staying on the squad, and for not condemning stunting (though I never participated in a stunt again), and for not suing the school.

There’s quite a debate about the safety of stunting, as cheerleading is associated with more than half of catastrophic injuries to female athletes (WaPo reported in 2013). I think it comes down to risk—what level of risk are we willing to accept to participate in a dangerous sport. But determining that risk is challenging and takes time, care and clear thinking.

Here’s the question that came to mind while exploring Professor Fazel’s AMA:

Do you believe media outlets (broadcast, web, newspaper) are doing enough to help create large-scale dialogue about what factors to consider in risk tolerance, for a contact sport or activity, so kids who choose to participate and the parents/guardians who want to support their kids, can make informed decisions? Why or why not?

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