Despite new helmets, doctors warn of concussion risk for football players

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BROCKTON, Mass. - Football is considered a rite of passage for many people, teaching young athletes skills that will help carry them through the rest of their lives

But with new research about the impact of brain injuries coming out seemingly every few months, the concerns that the risks outweigh the rewards are growing.

“I mean I think it's a concern any time in any sport but I've seen they are very careful,” Brockton football parent Tracie Walsh said.

This season, Brockton's Pop Warner league is taking that carefulness up another notch by tackling the issue of concussions head on.

The league spent more than $20,000 on helmets that fit better and, the manufacturer says, lessen the impact of hits that can cause concussions.

“Top of the line, state of the art, new technology. More safety for these kids,” Brockton Junior Boxers coach Miguel Oliva said.

But can a change in helmet markedly change the injury potential from tackle football? A concussion expert says there's just no proof.

“There's actually no on-field data that really tells us one football helmet is safer than another football helmet and there isn't any football helmet that will exclude you from being able to have a concussion,” Dr. Robert Cantu from Emerson Hospital said.

While concussions get all the attention, Cantu says it's the repeated exposure to smaller brain hits that can result in long-term neurological damage. Pop Warner players, he says, accumulate a lot of hits.

“By the age of 12 to 14 kids are hitting 400 times a year,” he said.

Even Miguel Oliva admits the new helmets do not offer complete protection, but he'll be happy with a reduction.

“In no case, no helmet is ever going to prevent a concussion,” he said.

The Brockton Junior Boxers have set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for further technology improvements to protect players.

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