A recent article in the NY Times highlights the recurring issue in football, and all sports, of the danger of head injuries. You can read the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/sports/football/super-bowl-at-media-day-spotlight-on-head-injuries-grows.html?hpw&_r=0
A specific quote that I relate to is this: “You keep playing football, you’re going to have your injuries, no one is exempt from that,” he said. “You’re going to have concussions. You’re going to have broken bones. That’s going to happen. But I think for the most part, we know what we signed up for.” As a collegiate and semi-pro athlete, I know personally how injuries, specifically head injuries, affect your performance on and off the field. I have pushed myself through multiple shoulder dislocations, surgery, a fractured spine, countless sprains and strains, and 3 concussions, all for the love of the game. Have I been advised that I should stop playing? Of course. The toll that elite sports take on your body is enormous. However, we all know the dangers of the game and choose to play anyway. The only question is, where does a line get drawn between protecting the players and allowing the ferocity of competition to continue?Two of my three concussions have been severe. My first, I was knocked out in a soccer game when I was table-topped (flipped over while in the air) and landed on my head. My parents were terrified. I was only a sophomore in high school, which is when the level of intensity really starts to move into high gear. Players get faster, stronger, and the tackles get harder. It’s a necessary progression in the game if you want to continue to play at a high level. There was a period of time when my parents made jokes that we should just rent a room in the ER for my numerous injuries, and I was questioned whether the sport was worth the pain. It always has been worth it for me. I’ve never held any illusion that the sport I play, especially at a high level, will not have the potential of me getting seriously injured.
Ever since I started my collegiate soccer career, we’ve had intensive pre-concussion screenings that help to monitor brain functioning should a head injury occur. I’ve specifically done imPACT testing for every team I’ve played for in the past 4 years, including my semi-pro team. It’s an issue that sports takes very seriously. Fouls that could result in serious injuries are monitored by referees and players are expelled or suspended from games for causing such tackles. But should the game be limited further than that? According to the Times article, new provisions are being discussed to limit the game of football, and other sports will probably follow. (The fact that President Obama feels he needs to offer his opinion on a sports issue that has absolutely no relevance to the government is beyond me, but that’s in the article too).
I don’t think that provisions should be placed on football based on head injury prevention. Obviously, I think that doctors and players need to communicate more on the severity of a head injury and the dangers of returning to the game too early, which is the biggest problem in sports following a concussion. But changing the intensity of the game for protection is going to permanently alter the core of the game. Football is a brutal sport. Every single one of the players knows it, and the fans know it too. The brutality is what makes it entertaining to watch. The same is true of many other sports.
The biggest issue here is NOT the intensity of the game, which is what will be changed, but rather the information available to players about head injuries. Athletes are pretty single-minded when it comes to their sport. We have been taught to fight through injuries and grit it out on the field, and then ice it off when the game is over. That cannot be the way players are educated about concussions, which are life and death issues at times. Athletes know about the risks taken by playing elite sports. They DON’T know about the medical reasoning behind taking time off for concussions. They aren’t doctors, they just want to get back on the field and do their job. It’s so easy to not report head injuries. I’ve done it with some minor collisions myself, even when I knew that I had a headache and felt a little dizzy. It’s stupid and irresponsible, especially because I have been educated about traumatic brain injuries and I want to be a physician, but I just didn’t want to be sidelined.
What do you guys think? What is the best way to handle this epidemic of head injuries in athletics?