The Concussion Discussion

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Sports-management professionals, and even politicians, are beginning to demand a permanent ban on all college football programs.

Supporters of the possible ban cite the increasing amount of serious head injuries from violent collisions. They believe the health and safety of our nation’s college students outweighs the recreational enrichment and entertainment appeal college football brings.

The majority of professionals engaged in the concussion discussion are seeking alternate avenues to reduce the health risks involved with football. However, there is a delicate balance between preserving football participants’ health and reducing the competitive physicality that makes football so appealing to players and fans.

Concussions result from the sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head. When this occurs, brain cells can become depolarized and the flow of neurotransmitters in the brain can be disrupted. This causes the brain receptors, critical to memory and learning, to become less effective. Those who suffer a concussion will often experience symptoms that include confusion, blurred vision, memory loss, nausea and, sometimes, unconsciousness.

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Dr. Micky Collins, one of the country’s leading experts on sports concussions, raised a warning voice against many athlete’s habit of simply “playing through” head injuries.

“If you’re recovering from a concussion, the first thing you don’t want to happen is to get hit in the head again. Receiving a second blow to the head before the first one is resolved can result in a more significant set of difficulties,” Collins said.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has initiated several guidelines and rule changes in an effort to reduce the amount of concussions to football players.

Most recently, the NCAA and the NFL adjusted their rules regarding kickoffs, moving the yard line for kickoffs five yards closer to the receiving team’s end-zone. This is intended to promote more touch-backs and reduce the severity of impacts that can often occur during kickoffs.

In 2010, the NCAA implemented a concussion-reduction plan that requires each university to produce its own concussion management plan. This plan is not football specific, but for all of the university’s sports teams. Mandatory inclusions in these plans include the following:

  • Student-athletes are educated regarding the symptoms of concussions.
  • Student-athletes are required to sign a promissory contract in which they agree to report concussion symptoms.
  • Student-athletes who appear to have concussion-related symptoms must be immediately removed from the sport and evaluated by medical professionals.
  • Student-athletes are not permitted to participate in their respective sports until their concussion-related symptoms are no longer apparent as determined by a medical professional.

A recent study evaluating the effectiveness of this 2010 concussion reduction plan yielded surprising results. The study, conducted by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, tracked and totaled the reported concussions from three university’s football teams. The total number of concussions reported from these universities in the 2010-2011 college football season was 42. This almost doubles the 2009-10 season concussion total of 23.

This study contributes to the opinions of many concerned that not enough is being done to reduce the prevalence of concussions.

This includes ESPN analyst and former Cougar quarterback Steve Young, who was forced into an early retirement from the NFL due to reoccurring concussions.

Young recently hosted a charity event for his Forever Young foundation, but also used the event as a platform to promote improved preventive measures for concussions in football.

“We’ve also got to reach out to each other,” Young said. “We need to break through the tough, thick skin a lot of players have about it and help each other through it. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’ve got to make it so we can converse about it, because that’s the hard part.”

The attention towards the detrimental health consequences caused by concussions was heightened by the suicide of NFL linebacker Junior Seau earlier this year. Though it has not yet been confirmed, Seau is suspected to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a concussion-related medical condition that causes severe depression.

Additionally, the attention surrounding concussions spiked once again in June, when hundreds of ex-NFL players filed lawsuits against the NFL. These lawsuits claim the NFL was negligent in their prevention and treatment of concussion-related injuries among the players. Attorneys representing the ex-NFL players are seeking damages due to the medical complications suffered by their plaintiffs as a result of the alleged negligence towards concussions by the NFL. Hundreds of ex-NFL players have since filed similar suits, with the total nearing 3,000 in mid-July.

 

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