Concussion Talk

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By: Nate Jervey
Assistant Sports Information Director

The recent rash of head injuries in professional sports, specifically football, has had me thinking a great deal lately. First of all, I am thankful that throughout all of my years of athletic competition that I never suffered a severe head injury….or have I?

Hits like this are becoming way more common ... OUCH!

It seems to me that the increase in head injuries is due in part to a few different factors. I will be the first to admit that as players get bigger, faster and stronger that the occurrence of severe injuries, particularly to the head, is bound to increase. You simply can’t avoid that fact.

I would also argue that poor technique has contributed to the phenomenon. When I was a kid we were taught to tackle with your butt down, your head up and to wrap up the ball carrier. More and more often I am seeing players simply try and drive a shoulder into a ball carrier or a receiver. It is this lack of technique and the inherent difficulties in trying to hit a moving target that I believe has led to some of the increase in head injuries.

Lastly, I feel like this point has not been addressed as much, but I believe (but who am I really?) may be one of the most important factors. Paranoia. Anytime someone gets the slightest bump on the head the game stops for 10 minutes as the trainers come out and put a player through a battery of tests to determine the severity of the injury. The trainers take that player’s helmet away and despite his objections to wanting to get back in and play he is forbidden. The NFL is a business and a very lucrative one at that. Each team is a corporation, and again, very lucrative. The commodity that the NFL and each franchise deal in is the product on the field and the quality of the product is dictated by the players that take the field each Sunday. It is most definitely in the best interest of each individual franchise, and the league as a whole, to do its best to protect the product. As a result, I believe that a lot of people may be a little quick to diagnose a concussion, or at the very least may be a little slow to rule out a concussion.

Which as I write it down, now seems a little counter-intuitive. But I see it as a short-term vs. long-term thing. In the short-term is where the product is hampered by a player being out, with the assumption that holding a player out for precautionary reasons will strengthen the long-term outlook of the product.

It is thought that repeated concussions eventually led to former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters' suicidal death due to depression.

I want to point out that I am not advocating putting anything above someone’s long-term health. I am merely stating that given the nature of the argument and the vast amount of negative press that has come with it, I think that that has had an effect on how some of these injuries have been diagnosed. There are other things than a player’s health which are being considered and this is leading to more and more people erring on the side of caution to the chagrin of some and the applause of others.

I played tackle football for two years in middle school, four years in high school and four years in college. That’s 10 years of tackle football. Add that to 13 years of competitive basketball and 13 years of baseball a few years of track and field mixed in and I can think of one instance where maybe I could have been diagnosed with a concussion. ONE TIME in a combined 36 seasons of competitive sport. It happened my senior year of football in college when I made a crack-back block on a defensive lineman. I weighed maybe 185 at the time and found out after the game that the d-lineman weighed 270. I remember hitting him and thinking “OUCH”. But really, I just shook my head a few times, grabbed some water and I was good to go. I did have a runny nose like you would not believe for the remainder of the game, but other than that I was ok…at least I thought I was. I never really asked any of the trainers to take a look at me, which is perhaps why I did not get diagnosed. I almost guarantee that today, had that happened I would have been told to not go back in the game and I would have missed some time after being diagnosed with a head injury, which is why I feel that it is a little bit of paranoia and extreme caution that has led to this increase in injuries.

I liked what Joe Paterno said about head injuries when he suggested that football go back to a single-bar facemask or even no facemasks. What better way to cut down on head injuries than getting players to stop leading with their heads for fear of mashing up their precious grills?

Actually, I don’t think that would work and really I don’t see any great ways to fix to the current rash of head injuries. Guess it just comes with the territory of being an athlete. You accept the risk that you may get hurt while doing something that you love. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be playing.  Let’s hope this kid is okay and keeps playing!

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