The debate about the longterm dangers of playing high school football typically centers around concussions -- but a new study from the Radiological Society of North America could suggest it may not take a concussion to alter a young player's brain.
Researchers studied 24 players, ages 16 through 18. None of the players was reported to have a concussion. Despite this absence, brain scans taken after just one playing season showed significantly decreased fractional anisotropy, which is associated with brain abnormalities. It is also associated with unhealthy white matter, which connects regions of the brain to help transmit messages.
"Similar brain MRI changes have been previously associated with mild traumatic brain injury," Christopher T. Whitlow, the lead researcher, said in a statement. But, he added, "it is unclear whether or not these effects will be associated with any negative long-term consequences."
To collect data, the researchers equipped players' helmets with Head Impact Telemetry Systems, which monitor helmet impacts and how hard they are. From the group, the players categorized as "heavy hitters" had more significant changes in their brains than the "light hitters."
The study comes as concussions in football continue to make the news. This week, a class-action lawsuit over concussions was filed on behalf of former high school football players against the Illinois High School Association.
Similar lawsuits have been filed against the NFL and NCAA, but the suit in Illinois is the first major concussion-related lawsuit on the high school level. A "fairness" hearing was held in November over a tentative settlement.
Joseph Siprut, the attorney on both the high school and the NCAA suit, told The Huffington Post he plans on filing cases similar to the Illinois case in other states.
Meanwhile, examination is being done to look for traumatic injury on the brain of Kosta Karageorge, an Ohio State University football player who may have committed suicide this weekend. Karageorge had had several concussions.