September 23, 2021
The Mac Parkman Foundation was named after founder Bruce Parkman’s late son, who died in September 2020. Bruce says he wants to spread awareness among parents about the secondary dangers of concussions in contact sports.
“I want to make parents aware of sub-concussive trauma, brain damage, and mental illness their children can come across due to contact sports,” Parkman says. Through The Mac Parkman Foundation, he aims to spread awareness of the risks kids face when they play contact sports like football, volleyball, wrestling, soccer, and so forth while under the age of 14.
Parkman notes that while minor concussions may not have a major impact immediately, when they occur at such an early age, the young brain is still developing; he believes that such injuries can profoundly affect a child’s mental or emotional growth well into later years.
How are contact sports impacting younger generations?
“No other nation supports concussive sports as much as America does,” Parkman says. “Earlier in America, concussive sports were played once a year, but now things have changed. Children play for wrestling clubs, travel clubs, and various associations. It is an ongoing process that continues the whole year. Today, (some) parents feel proud when their kids are enrolled in two or more contact games, and they play back to back. The kid’s brain is not ready for concussions because it is underdeveloped.”
More about The Mac Parkman Foundation and its mission
The Mac Parkman Foundation works with organizations like The Patrick Risha Foundation, the American Brain Council, and Concussion Legacy Foundation, which is a partnering organization of the NHL and NFL and other major sports leagues. The foundation works to inform parents of relevant findings and developments in the realm of sports-related brain injuries. Of note: Parkman says that the NFL and Ivy League Colleges have no contact practice; if such major organizations can follow a no-contact policy, he stresses, then middle schools should do the same.
What role do you think contact sports can play in mental illness?
When kids are playing contact sports, Parkman says, they may encounter concussions ranging from mild to major. Post-concussive trauma can occur, he explains, if the brain doesn’t get enough rest after a concussion. This, he posits, can lead to psychological issues, resulting in behaviors ranging from aggression to suicidal ideation.
What advice would you give parents who enroll their kids in contact sports?
Parkman says he has different messages for parents with varying circumstance:
Kids who have not played any contact sports: Parents should wait till they are 14 years of age, Parkman says.
Kids under the age of 14 playing contact sports: Parkman recommends pulling them out of contact sports immediately and engaging them instead in flag football or touch rugby.
Kids playing back-to-back sports: Parents should give their kids a rest, Parkman suggests, by reducing the load and remembering to provide periods of rest that last at least a month or two between seasons.
Kids who play multiple sports all year: Parkman says parents should watch them closely and watch for signs of post-concussion syndrome.
If the child has experienced a minor concussion: Parents should not let them get back on the field immediately after recovery, Parkman stresses, and recommends resting longer than the doctor or coach suggests as appropriate. Or, ask to see a Concussion Specialist prior to return to play.
Bruce says all parents should ask their children to stay honest with them. If they suffer from symptoms like headaches, nausea, sensitivity to light, insomnia, or trouble sleeping, he says, these may be signs of anxiety and depression due to post-concussive syndrome.
The road ahead
On September 24, 2021, the foundation is hosting an event in memory of Mac Parkman, calling it ‘Big Mac Day.’ The foundation plans to send bracelets to people who post photos and videos on the Mac Foundation website. The foundation sells t-shirts on its website and has made a video Parkman says will be shared on American Airlines flights later this year.
Bruce is launching a book titled A Concussion Survival Guide, and Mac’s sister, a nurse practitioner in psychiatric medicine, will soon speak on the topic at an industry conference. The Mac Foundation is looking for partners in education because, Parkman says, there is little to no training for psychologists in post-concussive syndrome, and athletic trainers have minimal knowledge surrounding concussions and sub-concussive trauma.
To learn more about The Mac Parkman Foundation, visit www.mpfact.com.