I just watched Malcolm Gladwell’s speech at Penn State regarding the burden of proof that is necessary before we take action.  For some reason there is a compelling need to have undeniable proof today in society before we move.  Why? I think its mostly about liability in our highly litigious society, but I also think its because people want to cover their ass.  I guess, in retrospect, those are the same thing. 

What was interesting is that he questioned the level of proof we need before we act. How much do we need? What amount is necessary?

For some things, like when a child is hurt at an intersection and the next thing we know there are signs and blinking lights installed, action is easy.

It feels right and is good. For other things, like changing our perspective on contact sports, it’s too hard, too expensive or just too confrontational.

That, according to Mr. Gladwell, and I agree, is an excuse.

When it comes to contact sports and brain injuries, the proof is there.  Hundreds of studies have determined that trauma from contact sports damages the brain.  There is not one study or paper that states that concussive or sub concussive trauma is healthy for the organ.  Add to those facts that every year hundreds if not thousands of children and young athletes whom play contact spots die by their own hand and tens if not hundreds of thousands more suffer from mental illness from the damage done to their brains, we don’t need any more excuses. We need action.

Mr. Gladwell told the story of a risk manager for a large insurance company that identified in 1918 that there was a correlation between coal mining, lung disease and lower life expectancy.  The industry shrugged it off, it was too expensive, too controversial, there wasn’t enough proof to change. It took 50 years before society had had enough of mining families dying and high rates of cancer before industry was required to look at itself.  But until that change took place, how many more innocent people suffered needlessly??

I believe that contact sports will go through the same evolution as well. Because, while some people don’t want to see it, we have ENOUGH PROOF.  We have the science, the research, the logic, that exposing a brain to continuous trauma damages that organ in ways that are detrimental and lead to changes linked to mental illness, neurological disorders and suicidality. 

But are we going to wait for this evolution to slowly take place while hundreds of thousands of more kids suffer needlessly?

CTE was diagnosed in the early 2000s and what has changed….nothing!

Kids are still playing football, rugby and other contact sports, still suffering subconcussive trauma way before their brains are ready for it and kids are still dying too young.

When it comes to our kids, how much PROOF do we need?

We have a study on the dangers of falling off a bike, we have helmets. Studies on car crashes we have seat belts.  If we understand the risks of falling off a bike, of skis, rollerblades, skateboards ONCE and go so far to protect them, why don’t we understand the risks of our children subjecting their brains to subconcussive trauma HUNDREDS and THOUSANDS of times? 

If we have proof that adult brains are affected by subconcussive trauma, how can we ignore the fact that a child’s developing brain is exponentially MORE vulnerable to the same trauma?

We have enough PROOF, let’s do something with it and stop making excuses.

Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell.

Bruce Parkman