My conversation with a cashier about him and his peers' concussion history in youth sports.
One January morning in my quest to beat the food shopping crowd, I met an engaging young high-school student athlete named Daniel, who was a cashier. I was impressed that he was so charmingly conversant with the young mother in front of me. The mother's pudgy just-turned-one-year-old seemed to be the star of the 'show', and Daniel knew it.
It came to light that his tired look was about playing in a high-school hockey game the night before, combined with a 7:00a.m. job start. How was he acting so engaged with conversation? It brought back fond memories of a previous decade involving my youth sports coaching career. Daniel was fast becoming a youth star this morning in my eyes.
Why Playing Despite Suffering a Concussion Leads to Long-Term Effects
The grandmotherly woman bagging groceries chimed in about the upcoming Super Bowl and the dangers of playing football. At this point, I asked Daniel about his experience with concussions. He shared that indeed he had at least one from hockey practice when a minor collision drove him backward, and he fell hitting the back of his helmeted head on the ice. He didn't realize he was concussed. Even though he was experiencing moderate headaches and light sensitivity, he still played in the game the following evening. The day after the game, he began having serious concussion symptoms and his doctor confirmed the diagnosis and a two-week sports hiatus.
Daniel then voiced concern for a close friend that has had six-combined football and hockey concussions, but since sports was his ticket to a college scholarship, he always played hard no matter how he felt. He also mentioned a senior who 'they won't let play anymore’, following his tenth concussion. It left me thinking anew about the dangers of high-school contact sports, and the need for everyone to be hyper-aware about head injuries, whether in games or practices.
The very next week, news broke about discovering chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in living NFL retirees, even in one with a history of only one career concussion and limited play as a back-up. This report came on the heels of BU Medical’s Dr. Ann McKee's groundbreaking football player brain post-mortem research, showing CTE in 33 of 34 NFLers studied, and more disturbingly in 17 and 18 year old brains! We must seize the momentum from these high-profile wake-up calls to further improve safety, prevention, education and comprehensive 'treatment' related to concussions and their consequences for the entirety of youth contact sports (elementary school through college). The pioneers who have long been hard at work making this happen over the years will welcome reinforcements, especially now that we have proof the stakes are even higher.
Daniel, his Division 1-bound friend, and their 6.9 million high school athletic peers deserve our full attention on this matter. As do the almost half-million college athletes and other millions playing in youth development leagues!
How Concussion Awareness is Changing
The good news is, that much has been already done to build on. One of these solutions has been the USA Hockey’s ‘Heads Up, Don’t Duck’, which is a safety program launched in the mid-90s by Dr. Alan Ashare. Paving the way for new comprehensive programs informed by the latest research will improve additional aspects of concussion and other head injury awareness and prevention.
While the NFL’s new mantra is to "make the game better and safer for the players", let us all do our parts by helping make "the players better and safer for the games".
For more information from Katharine White, please visit Brain In Play.