One Last Point: Retired by concussion

By Jef Hatch, Pilot staff writer August 28, 2012 07:00 pm

 

With football season gearing up and knowledge about how hard impact affects the brain, the national sports news coverage is full of stories about players health and the frequency of concussions in a full contact sport.

ESPN is taking a look at how concussions have affected players, even causing players in their prime to retire early from a sport that, in some cases, was guaranteed to pay the bills and in others, provide a solid retirement platform.

Through coverage on SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, Football at a Crossroads and ESPN’s magazine and website, the media giant is taking a look at health issues at all levels of football – including the affect of concussions.

At the professional level, concussions seem to have become so commonplace that they don’t warrant much coverage except when they force a player to retire earlier than they could have otherwise, or – in the case of Junior Seau – they may have been the cause of suicide or other aberrant acts.

At the high school level – and by default in our local sports community – concussions seem to be taken seriously and coaches are ready to err on the side of caution when it comes to sitting players when they may have had a concussion.

I watched a Brookings-Harbor High School football coach refuse to allow a player to return to the field after a particularly vicious hit to the head left the player dazed for a short time.

The player could have made a difference in the team’s final score, and yet the coach did what was right for the person, not the athlete or the team. I was impressed.

Currently all coaches in the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) system are required to take a National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) class on concussions.

NFHS provides the class free of charge to anyone willing to create an account on their website and, according to the OSAA’s policy, every coach who is involved in a high school program is required to take the class.

The policy also requires that any athlete who is suspected of having, or diagnosed with, a concussion should not be allowed to return to play until two criteria are met: The player must not exhibit any signs of a concussion and must be cleared by a medical professional.

I’m glad that our high school athletes are being taken care of, but if half of the athletes are as smart as I am, they simply aren’t telling their coaches about symptoms they might be experiencing after a mighty crack to the skull.

If I were 16-years-old and in danger of losing playing time by telling a coach I was dizzy, I’d keep my mouth shut. Being as old and wizened as I am now, I would definitely say something, but one never knows what kind of crazy thoughts go on in a teenager’s mind.

A recent NFL study found that many players weren’t diagnosed with concussions because the reporting requirements weren’t strict enough.

Of course, as time goes by the technology by which a concussion can be diagnosed improves and so the count of concussions goes up.

I think a possible solution to the concussion problem is to ban the head – completely. Defenders can’t use it to take a player down, and offensive players can’t lower it to break tackles. 

Some have suggested removing helmets, but it seems ridiculous to take a backwards step when it comes to protection.

Give referees the power to eject players for using their heads as weapons and we’ll see concussions drop dramatically, and it will still be football.