Is Safety Equipment Making Teens Less Safe? | Eric Leon | [email protected]

Is Safety Equipment Making Teens Less Safe? | Eric Leon | TEDxYouth@PWHS



imagine the year is 1892 padded boxing gloves are becoming popular around the world everyone from Asia to the Americas is enjoying the fruits of this improved safety measure now fat now fast forward 28 years to 1920 football helmets are sweeping the nation and football is becoming more popular in households with overprotective moms and dads there's no reason not to play these ones dangerous sports these monumental innovations looked great on the surface and for good reason but what experts didn't realize is that with every tackle and every punch a silent evil was at work these supposed safety measures were actually bringing us one step forward and two steps back the very padding specifically engineered to protect our athletes was actually creating a new and more serious problem this silent evil is chronic traumatic encephalopathy better known as CTE symptoms of this brain disease include problems with thinking and memory personality changes and even the development of dementia CTE only truly became a problem as padding in sports became more common over the past 200 years and right now the NFL is under scrutiny because when 111 brains of deceased NFL players were studied because of potential brain disease it was found that 110 of them had signs of CTE that's 99 percent of these athletes lives that were severely affected by the brain disease just a couple hundred years ago was almost non-existent experts originally believed that CTE only occurred in the brains of professional athletes and unfortunately recent studies have proven that wrong when the brains of athletes who stopped their sport right after high school or studied because of potential brain disease it was found that 20% of them had CTE let that sink in high schoolers like you and I who stopped their sport right after high school had signs of CTE so not only is it a silent destroyer but in severe cases it can work with deadly efficiency so what exactly is CTE well it's a brain disease caused by repeated hits to a person's head and it takes years and hundreds of thousands of hits to develop and the scariest part about it is that these hits aren't even strong enough to cause concussions all right bear with me for just a minute I'm gonna give you a little biology lesson I know you might not want to hear it but trust me it'll help you guys understand everything a little bit better okay so if you remember back to biology class you might know that neurons are specialized cells in the central nervous system that sends signals throughout the body and they're located in the brain and the spinal cord now when your head is impacted by these CTE causing hits it gets rotated about the neck and when this happens your neurons get stretched as you can see in the diagram the axon is the weakest and skinniest part of the neuron and therefore it gets stretched first imagine this exercise band is an axon and every time you get impacted to the head in sports it gets stretched so let's say you get hit in the head in football and it gets stretched or you get kicks to the head in martial arts and it gets stretched and this happens over and over and over again and eventually it breaks now this happens hundreds of thousands of times and each time it releases tau protein which is the glue of the neuron and it begins to clump in the brain and disrupt normal brain function so now that you know how CTE develops let's talk about the main sports that caused it which are football martial arts and boxing as I said before CTE only truly became a problem as padding in sports became more common and the padding and martial arts varies but is usually comprised of a helmet gloves and sometimes a chest protector in boxing its gloves and in football it's a helmet and shoulder pads so why did CTE become a problem with the introduction of safety equipment well the goal of safety equipment that's on the market now is to reduce what's known as high-energy injury this kind of injury is caused by high speed impacts and is usually immediate and localized and on the bright side current safety equipment is actually great at stopping this kind of injury but unfortunately it neglects an entirely different kind of injury which is known as high momentum injury now this kind of injury is caused by high mass impacts rather than high speed and CTE is exclusively caused by these high mass high momentum impacts so the problem facing athletes today is that there's no safety equipment on the market that's reducing the momentum of hits and we can even go as far as to say that gloves and helmets not only neglect CTE but they actually increased the frequency and intensity of CTE causing hits and this is due to the illusion of safety but safety equipment gives us when we suit up in the best equipment on the market we turn off our body's warning system when we put on our safety gear suddenly we feel invincible we can do anything we can tackle and punch harder and put our body on the line because we're safe right well you might think you're safe in the moment but each hit adds up and can be dangerous in the long run one major key regarding boxing and martial arts is that gloves increase the surface area of your fists as you can see from this boxing glove it has tons of padding on it which is great at stopping high-energy injury but not at stopping high momentum injury if I punch someone in the face I'll be perfectly fine but they're going to feel it and so will their axons and as you can see the surface area of a punch with a glove on as compared to my fist is about 2.7 times larger this increase in surface area actually increases the number of hits a person receives since it's so much easier to hit someone and in MMA the gloves are about 1.2 times larger and although this is the lesser of two evils it's still a big problem in football the helmets that you wear increase the radius of your head by around four inches now this increase actually increases the force applied to your axons to help you understand this think back back to your days on the playground on a seesaw with a friend I'm sure you probably tried to move away from the center while your friends stayed where they were suddenly you were much heavier than them and you probably didn't know why at the time but in reality since you were farther from the center you were applying much more force now the same exact concept can be applied to the football helmet and your axons because of this increased radius even minimal hits can be magnified it's become dangerous one interesting observation can be made about rugby and Australian football in rugby players wear what's known as a scrum cap which is a very thin cap that only truly protects against cauliflower ears now in Australian football players were no helmet at all but these two sports along with American football have almost the same levels of contact but rates of CTE and rugby are very low and almost non-existent in Australian football so why is this well in football they wear the most padding which means they're going to hit the hardest which is why they have the highest rates of CTE because of the illusion of safety that safety equipment gives us the increased radius or yeah the increased radius that helmets give our head and the increased surface area that gloves give our fists safety equipment is not keeping our athletes safe luckily for us there are a few potential solutions one drastic but promising approach would be removing helmets from all contact sports this would dramatically lessen the number of hits to the head that an athlete receives and the few that they still do receive would naturally be much less severe now obviously rule changes would have to be made but our athletes safety is much more important one thing is blatantly clear changes must be made to sports safety equipment athletes are negatively impacting their lives by playing the sports that are meant to improve them CTE is on the rise and although the NFL may be making slight rule changes it simply isn't enough and you may think CTE doesn't hit close to home or will never affect you but I bet some of you have friends on the football team or that practice martial arts or that box and they could be in danger of developing CTE so to answer the question I post earlier yes safety equipment is making teens less safe and the only thing left to answer is how many lives does CTE have to destroy before it's stopped thank you [Applause]

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