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Brain Injuries and Baseball: Another Youth Sports Risk


When one thinks of brain injuries and youth sports, high impact athletics like football and hockey come to mind first. However, as the recent story of one young California pitcher demonstrates, baseball can also result in devastating injuries. Among baseball players, pitchers are at a unique risk of head injuries from high-speed line-drive hits.

Despite these dangers, baseball players do not wear helmets or other protective equipment. This could leave them vulnerable to long-lasting traumatic brain injury consequences, raising questions about the responsibilities of youth athletics programs here in California and around the country.

As a 16-year-old high school pitcher, one young California man’s life changed abruptly when a line-drive hit put him in a coma while doctors worked to save his brain. Nearly three years later, the man suffers from many brain injury problems like memory loss, short attention spans, and even epileptic events.

This young man is not alone. In the MLB alone, two other pitchers took line-drives to the head within the same two weeks this fall. Pitchers are uniquely vulnerable because they are positioned so close to batters and because the physical mechanics of pitching leave them off-balance and unable to respond to incoming balls.

Because professional athletes and other adults are capable of making informed choices about sports-related risks, the law probably would deem them to have “assumed the risk.” This means that the players knew about possible injuries and voluntarily decided to play the game anyways. In these circumstances, the law generally says that injured players have to live with their decision and cannot hold anyone else accountable.

But in the case of youth athletes, this picture is not as clear. Even if teenagers have the ability to legally agree to take on a risk, it is harder to say whether they really appreciate the possible consequences.

This indicates that parents and coaches have a bigger role to play in protecting teenage athletes from these kinds of dangers. Especially in the case of coaches, a bad judgment could be catastrophic. For example, if a coach allows a teenage athlete to keep playing after suffering an apparently minor head injury, he or she could be running the risk of severe permanent injuries for that player.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Trying to protect vulnerable pitchers,” Ron Kroichik, Nov. 6, 2012