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Taking the science out of concussions

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Despite improved awareness, policy, and technology, concussions are still a part of football. More notably, athletes returning to play after a concussion is still a part of the game. Miscommunication, unawareness of symptoms, and players passing concussion testing have been used as explanations for concussed players returning to play (Boren, 2014; Good, 2014). These explanations do not change the fact that people are gambling with player safety.

A recent study found only 1 in 7 college football players will tell coaches when they are experiencing concussion symptoms, and offensive linemen reported returning to play while experiencing symptoms more frequently than other position groups (Baugh et al., 2014). Thus, how many players suffer concussions that we never hear about? For every concussion suffered by a star player that makes the news, how many others are returning to the field with concussion symptoms?

A company recently developed an accelerometer that indicates if a player has suffered a hard hit to the head and requires concussion testing. The device is being used in practice by LSU and Alabama football. Still, some high school teams have forbid the sensors, citing the possibility of false positives and not having resources to monitor the sensors as reasons for the ban (Jackman, 2014).

Thus, policy and technology can only do so much because these things rely on people to utilize them. Actions taken in regards to concussions may be motivated by playing time, revenue, liability, or the outcome of the game. However, decisions about player safety could have an impact on the player’s health for the rest of his life. Players and coaches need to take responsibility for the athlete’s well-being. Selfishness goes against every lesson taught in sports about putting the team ahead of yourself. When it comes to playing with a concussion, it is time for every player and coach to make player safety the rule, not the exception to the rule.

By Parker-Tims, who graduated from the University of Denver in 2014 with a M.A. in Sport and Performance Psychology. He played baseball and basketball and coached winter sports for 11 seasons—both in the U.S. at the national level and internationally.

Copyright J. Parker Tims, 2014

Baugh, C. M., Patrick T Kiernan, P. T., Kroshus, E., Daneshvar, D. H., Montenigro P. H., McKee, A.C.,
& Stern, R (2014). Frequency of head impact related outcomes by position in NCAA Division I
collegiate football players. Journal of Neurotrauma, doi:10.1089/neu.2014.3582
Boren, C. (23 October, 2014). Jamaal Charles, LaAdrain Waddle show that NFL concussion protocl isn’t
perfect. The Washington Post. Retrieved from www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early
lead/wp/2014/10/23/jamaal-charles-laadrain-waddle-show-that-nfl-concussion-protocol-isnt-perfect/

Good, D. (30 September, 2014). University of Michigan AD admits mistakes in handling quaterback.
Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/university-michigan-ad-admits-mistakes-handling
quarterback/story?id=25857185

Jackman, T. (7 August, 2014). Loudoun Valley football parents fight for helmet sensors, but
administrators decline. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/
local/loudoun-valley-football-parents-fight-for-helmet-sensors-but-administrators-decline/2014/08/07/7bb32bec-1d8d-11e4-ae54-0cfe1f974f8a_story.html

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