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Should Head Trauma Education, Protection, and Treatment be Available For All Sports?

Photo from kerlanjobeblog.com

Does the Recent NFL Settlement Have Implications For Youth Sports In General? 

There has been a lot of talk recently about safety and the prevention and treatment of head trauma in the NFL and other football leagues right down to high school football. The NFL and more than 4,500 former players have been fighting for months about the issue and want to resolve concussion-related lawsuits with a $765 million settlement. The money received would fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation and medical research. Coaches, players, and fans alike seem to be concerned that the sport is going downhill. Former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington was involved in the first lawsuit almost 2 years ago. According to ESPN.com, Arrington’s attorney, Joseph Siprut, said he “doesn't want to see the demise of college contact sports, including football, but safety is paramount.”

The common opinion seems to be, if they can't be reassured football is safe, parents will stop their kids from playing and the sport will eventually die out.

With all this talk about football, there is no mention of protecting basketball players from similar head trauma. Although basketball isn’t as hands on or as physically dangerous than football, it’s not to say these injures don’t occur or that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. In my basketball-playing career as a child, I witnessed many a concussion both in practice and in games.

A friend of mine, I changed her name and she requested “Charlie”, has been playing basketball for her whole life. She worked her way up from playing CYO and AAU, to playing on a championship-winning high school team, to now playing at the collegiate level. It’s her passion. It helps her sleep at night and wake up in the morning. It gets her through a long shift at the restaurant where she works and helps her get through the school day. But not anymore. Charlie suffered from two sports-related concussions during the span of about three months early this year. This brought her to a grand total of 5 concussions in her life. Her coaches and doctors urged her not to continue playing at the risk of serious brain damage but she wasn’t ready to give up her passion.

When an athlete is playing Division I ball and has a good shot at going pro, the sport is their life and their career. In Charlie’s case, the injuries cause by her “hobby” have put pursuing her career on hold. “I get extreme headaches,” she says. “I can’t remember things, short term mostly. I have difficulty with simple math problems in my head. I can’t process emotion or information. I’m moody and have extreme difficulty remembering words I know I’ve learned but just haven’t used in a while.” Charlie made the extremely difficult decision to take a semester off from school to better recover from her injuries. She explained everything to me in a long, emotion filled text message, “Everyday I wake up concerned if I’m going to make an idiot out of myself (…) I had to take a semester off because I was tired of failing when I know I’m smart enough to succeed.”

Coaches and medical staff should be taking more of an initiative to better educate their players on the harmful effects of head trauma. “I didn’t listen to my neurologist when he pleaded me not to go back to sports,” Charlie says. “I should have listened but I didn’t. He couldn’t tell me the exact damage my concussions had caused and couldn’t tell me how many more it would take before I would start to notice [the effects].”

I believe better education, prevention techniques, and treatment plans should be available in all sports, not just football. This is especially true in young kids while their brains and skills are still developing. Head trauma can occur in just about any sport and should be taken just as seriously if and when it happens. When a head trauma occurs in any sport, it should be treated like the serious brain injury that it is and not brushed off like a twisted ankle or scraped knee. Everybody is so concerned about parents not letting young kids play football and the sport drying up but what about when all the young basketball players’ brains are so fried from multiple head injuries that they can barely remember what they had for breakfast, let alone plays and strategies.

What do you think? Do you think there should be better protection for players of all contact sports or is football the only sport people should be concerned with?