Let’s start with flipping quarters. It’s how we start most games and seems like a good place to begin a conversation about concussions. For now, it’s heads, you lose.
The recent video series we’ve featured (watch) on the study of concussions being conducted by the NCAA and Department of Defense, made me reflect on the importance of this issue.
My first exposure to the severity of concussion came many years ago. I was too young to play on the varsity, so I decided to be a manager.
The quarterback for our team wasn’t exactly the type of physical specimen you’d see in high school today. He may have been all of 5’6″.
This was in an era before the focus on weight rooms, diets and when the really big boys were truly a rarity. Having a lineman weighing anywhere near 250 lbs was unusual.
The team was built on speed. The offense, ground and pound.
We rode that horse to many a victory. Then, one night we met our match. We went up against a defensive line that looked like they’d eaten their family and the house as well before hitting the field. Big? Yes, but also quick.
Their continued assault was too much for our offensive line. Then the dam broke. It was a leak here and there at first. One a speedy, scampering quarterback could elude but it was only a matter of time before the inevitable.
Bringing It To Light
In 2009, Jeanne Marie Laskas penned an article for GQ Magazine entitled, ‘Game Brain’.
It revolves around forensic pathologist and neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered and published findings on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). It focused on American professional football players.
The story expanded to a book and became a 2015 movie, ‘Concussion‘, starring Will Smith.
Bennet’s findings began in 2002 after an autopsy of a former Pittsburgh Steeler player.
Fast forward to 2007, when CTE findings were presented to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee chair, Ira Casson, publicly dismissed the findings saying, “In my opinion, the only scientifically valid evidence of a chronic encephalopathy in athletes is in boxers and in some Steeplechase jockeys.”
Two years later, the NFL acknowledged that there was a correlation between concussions in the game and CTE.
Flipping Quarters. Heads, You Lose
The first of several powerful, crushing sacks cast an ominous cloud. They were the type of sacks that you could feel across the field through your shoes.
It didn’t help that the temperatures had gone south and the ground was frozen solid. That merely amplified the blows.
I remember the final sack that brought the game to a standstill, just as clearly today as I did back then. Everyone stood up. There was a collective groan from both sidelines and the bleachers. Then there was silence. A pall settled over the stadium. Time felt as if it had slowed down.
Slowly, he got back up. Staring blankly, he began stumbling toward to the opposite sideline. His brain obviously in a fog, desperately trying to make sense of the scrambled messages rattling around inside his head.
A teammate sensed his confusion and escorted him slowly to his sideline.
After being checked by coaches, I was tasked with “watching” him.
Knowing what I do today, my experience coaching and as an EMT. I realize he should have been taken to a hospital.
At the time though, I was an eighth grader with a rudimentary understanding of first aid.
Concussions? Sure, I’d had a few. You get your bell rung, have a headache and try not to go to sleep. Right?
For the better part of the latter half and then through almost an hour long bus ride home he was still out of it. After a half hour unpacking and team talk, he still wasn’t 100%, so the coach drove him home.
I’m still friends with his family and often wonder how he is, more so now that we’re getting older.
Our knowledge of concussions during that time was simple to say the least.
Where does change begin? It’s certainly great to see the pros and colleges making strides. High schools could certainly do a lot better.
Where Do We Begin?
Following the lead of Dr. Omalu, researchers are finding ways to lessen and even negate the potential of CTE among athletes.
As the four part NCAA/DOD video, ‘A Look at the Future of Concussion’ indicates, an effort to learn more and find solutions is on the front burner.
Setting new and informed standards for athletes at an early age and establishing a pattern that lasts a lifetime is premium.
Are we moving forward at the youth sports level?
One program has demonstrated both a willingness and ability to make the changes.
A nationwide youth sports franchise, i9Sports has taken progressive steps in addressing this issue.
I spoke with Jeff Kraft of i9Sports in Richmond (VA) about his program and what they’re doing to address this issue.
We’re moving in the right direction. It will be a great day when we can go back to flipping quarters and never have to say, heads, you lose, again.