Can a concussion from playing football really alter my life forever? It is a question that is being asked much more frequently these days, especially when football season rolls around each fall. When your son first approaches you as a child and asks about playing football, the knee jerk response has typically and historically always been “yes”. Every young boy should have the opportunity to experience youth football, right? With an aggressive, intense focus in recent years on concussions and head injuries associated with football, the decision has become much more difficult and should be given careful consideration and forethought.
Years ago, when current-generation fathers started playing football, coaches and parents rarely discussed or dealt with concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Was this because kids didn’t sustain concussions as often back then or was it because parents and coaches simply were not as aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions as they are today? Unfortunately, it is likely the latter.
Recently, investigation and research into the causes and effects of concussions has increased significantly, due largely in part to the tragic death of Junior Seau, one of the NFL’s greatest linebackers. Junior Seau died on May 2, 2012 from apparent suicide. Seau’s autopsy suggested that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. Studies show that it is not the one big hit but rather, smaller, repeated blows to the head which cause brain damage. Seau’s family subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL. The lawsuit blames the NFL for its “acts or omissions” that hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head. It also accuses the NFL of deliberately ignoring and concealing evidence of the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries and allowing players to play without proper medical clearance. While there are sure to be a wide variety of opinions over the merits of the Seau lawsuit and others brought by former NFL players, there is no denying that these incidents and lawsuits are bringing more publicity to the subject.
A few years ago, the NFL implemented a new policy concerning head injuries and player safety. The NFL now imposes a battery of tests that a player has to pass after sustaining a concussion before he is allowed to play again. The result of this new policy is that most players miss at least one game following a concussion. Prior to the implementation of this policy, it was commonplace for a player to be back on the field for the very next game. For the 2013 NFL season, there will be an independent, unaffiliated physician on the sideline for every single game to provide immediate, neurological assessments of players suspected of sustaining a head injury.
The good news for our communities is that the publicity surrounding the head injuries sustained by these professional players, and the new policies associated therewith, are now trickling down to youth football. Without a doubt, almost anyone reading this article has heard of a young boy in our communities sustaining a concussion during a football practice or game.
Football is a great game, enjoyed safely by many boys every fall. However, parents and coaches need to be ever vigilant about detecting symptoms associated with concussions including loss of consciousness, drowsiness, confusion, headache, nausea or vomiting, blurred vision and loss of memory of events surrounding the injury.
With tremendous advancements in technology, coaches and school administrators should be aware that sensor systems exist that can be placed inside helmets to provide real-time data to sideline monitors on the severity and frequency of player collisions. This type of sideline data is extremely important to facilitating the early detection of collisions that could give rise to a concussion. One thing we should all agree upon is that winning a football game is always secondary to the health and safety of our children.