Concussions: Impacting Professional and Youth Athletes Alike

[caption id="attachment_832" align="alignleft" width="285"]Aikman Concussion Troy Aikman: a posterchild for the threat concussions pose to an athlete's career[/caption]

Concussions are the biggest health concern in sports since the emergence of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, at the turn of the century. Like PEDs, concussions are not just an issue in the professional leagues, but all the way down the line to youth leagues across the board. It isn’t just a football problem either. Baseball has established a new seven-day disabled list stint for those suffering from concussions, and has seen productive players such as Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, and Ryan Sweeney miss time with the injury. Soccer can be just as bad. Just last night, “Rock Center with Brian Williams” aired a piece on a 15-year old Pennsylvania girl named Allison, whose amateur soccer career is in jeopardy after sustaining five concussions in the past three years.

Troy Aikman is infamous for suffering ten concussions over the course of his Hall-of-Fame Career, a number that was seemingly unrivaled. Now it appears that many players' concussions may have just been going undetected, or even worse, that the NFL may have been holding back knowledge about the life-altering effects of sustaining multiple concussions. This is how concussions have yet again found themselves in the national spotlight; yesterday, 2,138 former players filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the NFL hid “information that linked football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries,” reports ESPN. The athletes want the NFL to hold itself “responsible for the care of players suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other neurological conditions. Other former players remain asymptomatic, but worry about the future and want medical monitoring.” The situation is especially ugly when the tragic losses of former players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau are considered. Each took their own life, debatably due to the side effects of battling numerous concussions.

It is becoming a difficult decision for parents, whether or not to allow their children to play contact sports. The majority still allow it, putting their faith in the protective equipment that has been developed to limit the probability of getting a concussion. Still, the risk is there. In his conversation with Bill Simmons on Grantland.com, author extraordinaire Malcolm Gladwell offered up the following research to Simmons, whose son is at the age where he can soon start playing football:

I was recently reading, by the way, about the work of a researcher at Virginia Tech named Stefan Duma who put electronic monitors in the helmets of 7- and 8-year-olds playing Pop Warner football. He found that those kids were routinely getting hits to the head in the 40 to 60 g range, with some even upwards of 80 gs. To put that in perspective, imagine that you put your son in the front seat of your car, told him not to wear a seat belt, and then smashed the car at 25 miles an hour into a brick wall, so that your son's forehead hit the dashboard. That would be 100 g. Then you reverse and do it again, 30 to 40 times over the course of two hours, at speeds between 20 and 25 miles per hour. That's a football game. If you reversed and did it again, 1,000 times, that would be a season. This is massively screwed up, Bill. Your son is 4½ years old. Is there any chance you'd let him play football?

Simmons is facing the same decision parents everywhere will be forced to make. Do I allow my child to play contact or impact sports despite the risk of injury? Tom Brady, Sr., father of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football, was ahead of the game in the 90’s, and would not let Tom play football until high school. Now, he says in an interview with Yahoo! Sports, in this era, he would be “very hesitant to let him play” at all.

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Perhaps it's unfair for parents to conclude that their kids should never play these sports; injuries are a part of any child’s life. Instead, maybe parents should acknowledge the risks early on, and if the time comes when it could be to the child’s detriment to continue playing the game, then consider taking their kid out of the sport. As difficult as it may be to take away the game a child loves, one’s well-being must be put above all else.

Of course, my opinions come from the perspective of a non-parent. If any sports parents out there would care to offer their input on concussions or any other topic youth sports, the CoachUp team would love to hear your comments!

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