Our Viewpoint: How to overcome ignorance in America towards concussions

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, November 1st, 2017 at 5:42 PM

According to a study done by the NCAA between 2004-2009, 7.4 percent of injuries sustained on the football field are concussions, with most occurring during run plays and affecting defensive players (17.8 percent). To put numbers to that, out of the 20,718 injuries each year in football, 1,364 of those are concussions — and those are only the ones reported. 

The Brain Injury Association of America reports that 10 percent of all college football players sustain brain injuries and those who do are six times as likely to sustain new brain injuries. Mind you, this is again only based on the concussions that are actually reported.

Estimates by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center state that 5 out of 10 concussions go unreported or undiagnosed, while of 1.7 to 3 million sports-related concussions each year, 300,000 are football-related.

If you think these numbers are shocking, just think for a moment about the fact that I haven’t even referenced other contact sports, which produce just as much risk to the player of getting a traumatic brain injury. 

Now couple that with the fact that the NCAA didn’t publish a concussion guideline until 1994 and didn’t mandate concussion management plans until 2010, and it’s easy to see why this is the case. 

Let’s face it here: nobody who plays sports wants to admit they have a season-ending, or game-ending injury, even if it’s the best thing for their health. I mean, sure, you can’t always tell if it’s only a mild concussion, so you could honestly feel fine, but quite frankly I don’t think enough people know that lying about how they feel just to keep playing is leading to far worse repercussions down the road. 

Even the mildest of concussions, even if it’s your first, hold the possibility of leaving permanent damage to your brain. According to new research, abnormal brainwaves and atrophy can persist in athletes even two years after a concussion. 

With all the research out there, it’s amazing we still have multiple groups bemoaning the “wussification” of football by the NFL and NCAA. Especially when this apparent “wussification” is merely ending things such as horse-collar tackles, helmet-to-helmet hits and tackling the quarterback by aiming for above the shoulders, all of which are safety measures to prevent concussions.

With multiple NFL players crawling out of the woodwork years later, now complaining of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), you’d figure some of their fans would take up arms to defend the people who won their city’s Super Bowl titles. Instead, they are greeted with comments ranging from disinterest to flat out insult with comments like, “well they knew what they were getting themselves into,” or, “they get paid millions, so they shouldn’t be complaining.” 

The effects of CTE are very close to that of dementia and are the direct result of repeated concussions. The average lifespan of someone with the disease is 51 years, with the average life expectancy in the U.S. being 78 years old. 

So the question of it all comes down to one simple thing: how much risk should we be putting our athletes through just to sell a ticket or two? Is the entertainment of the audience held in higher importance than the safety of the players, or are we simply overreacting?

When it comes down to it, contact sports are inherently dangerous regardless of how you play them, but that doesn’t mean we should purposefully increase people’s risk of head injuries that will literally follow them to the grave. 

When it comes down to concussions, we need people to realize the long-term effects of sustaining one and how it can ruin more than just a game or a season, but the rest of a player’s life if left untreated. 

We as a society need to start viewing these rules and increased padding not as an adherent to an entertaining sport, but instead as a necessity to keep our athletes alive and on the field. Saying people who play sports should expect life-threatening injuries is just flat out irresponsible and negligent. 

It’s time we take a leap into the future by creating an environment where CTE and concussions are things of the past. 

If you would like more information on concussions, visit cdc.gov/headsup for more info. 

Roman Sabella can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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