Between a deluge of material provided by the media and Hollywood, most of us are scared to death we will have a concussion, or we already have, that will lead us to struggling to operate a phone within the next three years.
Some sports, most notably football, are suffering image problems as a result of all of this fear. What was once deemed harmless fun is now regarded as unsafe, and unwise, to play as more high-profile cases of CTE and head-injury related illnesses arise and go viral with sometimes tragic details.
It’s never a good thing when a Hall of Famer takes his own life and includes in his suicide note a plea to have his brain studied, as was the case of former San Diego Chargers’ linebacker Junior Seau.
Fear has, often justifiably, scared many parents enough to convince them to take contact sports away from their children. Parents already carry enough guilt; we simply don’t need more.
While any physical activity will always with come with it a level of buyer-beware, the type of research, data and education about concussions that exists today says that we are not looking at the end of football. Or hockey. Or soccer. What we simply need to do is not lie about it, and know when to sit out the next play(s).
Beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 17 at TCU, a Team Up Speak Event about concussion awareness will include doctors and scientists from TCU athletics and sports medicine, the Ben Hogan Sports Concussion Center and JPS Hospital in Fort Worth.
Seating is limited; contact ESPL@tcu.edu for more information.
Jonathan Oliver, who holds a PhD in kinesiology and is an assistant professor at TCU, firmly believes that parents should not fear having their kids in a contact sport.
“There is wear and tear on everything and that’s what we are trying to determine is where that limit is (for the brain),” Oliver told me. “Can we control the amount of damage and say, ‘We can allow you to come to this level?’ We do the same thing with pitchers and pitch counts.”
Where sports science is in terms of concussion and brain trauma from playing ball is in its relative infancy. As a sports culture we have evolved from zero knowledge, to panic, to a calmer level of awareness. People playing contact sports are aware that there is a risk.
Leagues have protocols and procedures in place to prevent, hopefully, players from further injuring themselves.
Whether the procedures work can be debated. Ask Tom Brady’s wife, Ms. Gisele.
What researchers are trying to determine is how to monitor the brain to know when an injury has healed thereby to safely allow a player to return to a game without risking further damage.
“The number of concussions being diagnosed has increased so we may be being overly-cautious; but being overly cautious can be good,” Oliver said. “If you don’t feel well, you should not go in. It used to be, ‘Pat little Johnny on the head and shake it off and go back in.’”
There is nothing any doctor can do about the player who lies in order to play, or to prove to their coach he’s tough and can take it.
The tests that exist today can essentially be “faked.” Oliver is a proponent of all players establishing a baseline every year to know what their specific version of “normal.”
With so much money at stake in sports there is too much incentive for football, soccer, hockey et all to just die off for fear of concussion. We know the testing needs to be improved, which it will, as well as the measurement.
We know know that if repeatedly jarred without healing the brain will suffer, no different than an injured knee that is not properly rehabbed.
The only way to lower the risk of playing these sports is to raise awareness about exactly what can happen when a player is hit hard, and that starts by not lying about it.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof