Call to the pen: NFL concussion issue worth noting at all levels of play
Jamie Shell / (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. injury to the brain or spinal cord due to jarring from a blow, fall, or the like. 2. shock caused by the impact of a collision, blow, etc.
A lot has been made in the past few years about concussions in the game of football, primarily in the National Football League, where more than 1,000 former players filed suit this past June in federal court against the NFL, accusing it of concealing information linking football-related injuries to long-term brain damage.
In the players' eyes, the league did not go far enough in protecting its players, a lapse that, according to them, has been a decades-long oversight.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is former Chicago Bear Jim McMahon, quarterback of the famed 1985 "Super Bowl Shuffle" Bears team that dominated pro football in winning Super Bowl 20 against the New England Patriots. In an interview earlier this year, McMahon pointed the finger at the league's negligence when it comes to protecting and educating players.
"We knew there was going to be a chance for injury," McMahon said. "We didn't know about the head trauma and they [the NFL] did. That's the whole reason for the lawsuit."
Two weeks ago, the NFL was again reminded of the issue, as it saw no less than seven players, including two quarterbacks, forced out of games because of a blow to the head. One of the players, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, has missed the last two games, including this past Monday's game against Carolina, because he has failed to pass league-mandated post-concussion tests.
I applaud what the NFL is doing to diagnose and treat concussions in its game, but brain-jarring hits didn't start when players joined the professional ranks. At stadiums on Friday nights, Saturday mornings and afternoons, fans see similar hits that draw admiration from fans and, in some cases, highlight reel footage on the nightly ESPN broadcasts.
I read a recent column in The Washington Post by columnist Mike Wise who wrote of his meeting with Robert Cantu, founder of Sports Legacy Institute and an adviser to the NFL's head, neck and spine committee. Cantu said that, in addition to professional players, children under 14 years old are at risk for concussions and trauma.
"Youngsters are not miniature adults," Cantu said. "Youngsters' brains are more susceptible to the cytotoxic shock of concussions and as a group they tend to recover more slowly. Youngsters have big heads on weak necks, and that 'bobble-head doll' effect puts them at greater risk than it puts an adult."
I'm not sure if I agree with Cantu's entire assessment, but the notion that both younger and older players must be aware and protected from the potential for brain and neck injuries is spot on.
As recently as a decade or two ago, when a player suffered a bone-jarring hit, coaches chalked up the injury to a player "getting his bell rung" or being "dinged up," and often sent the player back into the game.
I spoke with Avery High School football coach Darrell Brewer, a former player himself, about the issue of concussions in his playing days and if he had ever dealt personally with head injury.
"This issue of concussions has changed so much from when I was playing football in high school and in college. People talked about players getting their bell rung, but I never remember a diagnosis of a concussion when I was playing football," Brewer said. "I'm sure there could have been, but I don't ever remember that. I remember at least once when I'm sure I suffered a concussion, but at that time we didn't know what it was and didn't talk much about it, so I played the rest of the ballgame. How I knew I had a concussion is that I have no memory of that game past the point when the hit occurred."
During my conversation with Brewer, he praised the efforts of the state high school athletic association to be out in front of the issue, calling for baseline testing of student-athletes before a concussion occurs. In addition, while treated by athletic training and/or medical staff, student-athletes are required to wait seven days following the last symptom of a concussion before resuming practice and competition. NCHSAA also requires signed documentation from all school employees, first responders, volunteers, students and parents of a concussion and head injury information sheet.
Brewer praised the medical staff on hand at Vikings football games, and their ability to recognize and treat the injury. He also appreciates their jurisdiction over his desires regarding a player's injury or availability.
"Sometimes for me it can be frustrating because I have felt at times that there are too many concussions that get diagnosed out there. But as a coach, having a good athletic trainer and doctor onsite is crucial," Brewer said. "They take the issue completely out of my hands as a medical matter, and they are professional about it. I can't vouch for every school, but I'm confident that Avery High School does as much for a child as we can possibly do."
I am an avid football fan that enjoys a big hit as much as anyone. But my hope and prayer is that education on head injuries continues to progress and evolve so young men and women can both enjoy the games they play and live productive lives after sports.