Sports has been a passion of mine since I was a kid. I’ve played a wide variety of sports as a child and played several competitive sports in high school. My passion for sports has remained as an adult. I play recreational sports for fun and I have been coaching middle school sports for almost 15 years. Sports provide a great opportunity for exercise and staying fit as well as social interaction. There is always a risk of injuries in sports and I have experienced my fair share of nicks and bruises along the way. In the nearly 40 years that I have been involved in sports, the sports themselves haven’t changed very much. However, there has been a significant shift in the way we are approaching some of the issues around injuries. Specifically, head injuries.
I can remember as a young athlete being involved in some collisions that would be considered quite violent. Taking a hit in football or hockey, getting hit in the helmet with a fastball during a baseball game and even an accidental collision with a teammate during a basketball game. I’m sure there are more but these ones stand out to me because in each of these incidents I had “my bell rung” as we used to refer to it back then. I can distinctly remember the feeling of being nauseous and dizzy not to mention how foggy my thoughts were at that moment. I remember how hard it was for me to get up and “walk it off” and get myself back to the bench. Something else I remember is how eager I was to get back in the game and continue playing. It wouldn’t take long for me to tell my coach that I was fine and I’d be back in the game. At that time, 20 -25 years ago, I had no idea that in all likelihood I had suffered a concussion.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination. Concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head. Violently shaking the head and upper body also can cause concussions. Some concussions cause you to lose consciousness, but most do not. It’s possible to have a concussion and not realize it. Concussions are particularly common if you play a contact sport, such as football.
I look back now and I wonder, how many traumatic brain injuries have I had in my life? I couldn’t say with certainty what the exact number is because back then there was little discussion about concussions. However, I would have to say that after looking at the symptoms, I have had several concussions through my years of sports. I would also have to say that I have very likely suffered a concussion or two through work as well. The most obvious being the time I fell off a 12ft ladder and hit my head.
Signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:
A headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
Temporary loss of consciousness
Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
Dizziness or “seeing stars”
Ringing in the ears
Nausea or Vomiting
Delayed response to questions
You may have some symptoms of concussions immediately. Others may be delayed for hours or days after injury.
Dr. Elliot Pellman, Chair of the MTBI Committee stated:
When asked about the issue of concussions in 1994, Pellman tells Newsday:
“‘We discuss it on the list of things every time we have a league meeting … We think the issue of knees, of drugs and steroids and drinking, is a far greater problem, according to the number of incidents.”
Pellman also tells Sports Illustrated that “concussions are part of the profession, an occupational risk.”
NFL commissioner at the time Paul Tagliabue was also quoted saying:
“On concussions, I think is one of these pack journalism issues, frankly… There is no increase in concussions, the number is relatively small… The problem is a journalist issue.”
This apparent disregard for the issue of concussions would continue until 2002 when Dr. Bennett Omalu would bring concussions to the forefront of mainstream media through his research on the brains of former NFL football players. He found that there was a correlation between repeated head injuries and long-term health. His research showed that repeated head injuries and concussions led to the development of a brain disease called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). The NFL tried to continue its denial of the issue but as more and more players came forward with their stories about their brain traumas and difficulties they were having in life the NFL had to finally recognize that there was a problem. Dr. Omalu’s research made people start to take notice of the concussion issue. His work and the efforts to push the NFL to institute stronger concussion measures are highlighted extremely well in the 2016 movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith. I would highly encourage taking the time to watch this film.
Many former players joined forces to file a lawsuit against the NFL for its unwillingness to recognize the dangers of the sport and its impact on players future lives. The players and families of deceased players received a settlement of over $1 billion.
First filed in 2011, the suit was originally settled in 2013 for $765 million. But the federal judge overseeing the case was concerned that amount wouldn’t be enough to provide for the more than 20,000 ex-NFL players covered under the suit. After multiple rounds of negotiation, she finally approved a revised settlement in 2015 that removed the $765 million cap on damages, and the new deal is expected to cost the NFL somewhere over $1 billion.
The massive issues in the NFL started to make other sports and society take a much closer look at the concussion issue. The NHL is another major league where high-speed collisions are common and even fighting is allowed. Hockey is a sport where there is a high risk of a concussion just like football. Former NHL star Paul Kariya was involved in a major collision during his career that eventually led to his retirement at a very young age. He was once hit so hard in a game that he still to this day doesn’t remember the end of the game. He actually finished playing in that game.
There have been significant changes in how concussions are being dealt with. Now that the awareness of long-term effects is better understood, most sports now have a concussion protocol. In both the NFL and NHL, players who are involved in an incident where they may have suffered a head trauma are pulled from the game immediately. They must then complete a series of test in order to be permitted to return to the game. Unfortunately, this doesn’t reduce the potential for head injuries happening. In fact, the number of head injuries is actually on the rise in recent years.
NFL players were diagnosed with more concussions in 2017 than in any season since the league began sharing the data in 2012.
Players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before and therefore the collisions are becoming more violent and dangerous. Leagues need to find a way to make the games safer.
The concussion discussion is not going away anytime soon. I can only see the issue becoming more prominent as more and more players come forth with stories and media continues to highlight the issues. It is great to see the changes that have already been made. As a coach and parent, I feel more comfortable knowing that there are steps being put in place to both avoid concussions and to diagnose them early. Think back to when you were younger and involved in sports. How many times did you have your “bell rung”? Have you ever had a head injury and just thought it was a stinger or not a big deal. Educate yourself about the symptoms and treatment, especially if you have kids involved in sports. I wish someone would have told me back them to just stay on the bench.
Authored by: @broncofan99
Images: 2, 4, 5