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Hard-hitting look at sports head injuries

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FILMMAKER Steve James (Hoop Dreams) isn't one to save the best for last. Here are the first words in his documentary about brain trauma in athletes: "It's been known for a long time that banging your head over and over and over and over again can be a bad thing."

Hard hitting in more ways than one, Head Games takes its title from a book by Chris Nowinski, a former footballer and wrestler (and Harvard graduate) who looked into the prevalence and severity of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the NFL. A cool, computer-generated graphic puts CTE in perspective -- imagine the tracks that carry impulses through your brain shattered by repeated blows.

Nowinski got a boost when New York Times sports reporter Alan Schwarz started following the same leads. Among his findings; a 2009 report that showed dementia in retired football players -- at a rate 19 times higher than the general public. Sports players who have committed suicide were later found to have CTE.

Gets worse

It gets worse. Doctors have found that concussive injuries also plague hockey and soccer (from heading the ball), and that children are just as likely to be concussed playing such sports in school.

Nowinski is seen giving a talk at one high school where the head coach says his 10-year-old suffered dizzy spells after playing soccer, but that it wasn't concussion; it was "part of the game." Professional sports leagues have been similarly slow to admit the possible scope of the problem.

Head Games doesn't provide easy answers, and even those who admit the dangers are loath to pull their kids out of sports they love. Others point out that school athletics help keep kids out of gangs.

It's certainly wholesome food for thought for anyone with kids in sports. In the end, Schwarz says, it comes down to personal choice. If you and your children are aware of the risks and still want to participate, he says forebodingly, "knock yourself out."

-- Postmedia News

Movie Review

Head Games

Starring Alan Schwarz, Bill Daly and Robert Cantu

Globe

G

91 minutes

Three out of five stars

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 D6

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