oops…I did it again

Growing I loved playing sports. Believe it or not-one of my favorite games to play was basketball. Despite my obvious lack of height for the game I somehow made the varsity basketball team in high school. I remember during one of the last games of my career I was fouled hard as I was jumping in the air. I lost my balance and landed unprotected on my right cheekbone. I got up okay and tried to play but they took me to the hospital when I started to lose my balance and  couldn’t remember the events of that afternoon or that I had just fallen. I was told I had suffered a concussion from the fall and I was not allowed to play for two weeks.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in sports is very common. In fact it is estimated that 300,000 TBI of mild or sever form occur each year, and most can be classified as concussions. One of the scary facts about concussions is that after receiving one concussion the risk of getting another greatly increases and the force needed to cause a concussion greatly decreases.

Concussions are a hot topic today in sports and especially in football. Imagine men who weigh 250 lbs (~125 kgs), squat 800 lbs (400kgs), bench press 400 lb. (200 kgs) running into each other head first. Some estimate that collisions of football players can be equivalent to a head on collisions of two cars.

Today, more and more veterans of the sport of football are coming and openly criticizing the sport for not protecting the players. Many athletes who have retired, who during their time were consistently getting concussions are now feeling the repercussions their actions. Many players choose to be “tough” and do not tell their coaches and trainers they had received a concusssion during the game. It is estimated that at least 3 concussion go unreported during each professional game.

Today’s presenter were good enough to tell us that the initial TBI may not even be the worst part of a brain injury. To summarize, Repeated mild brain injuries occurring over an extended period (i.e., months or years can result in cumulative neurologic and cognitive deficits, but repeated mild brain injuries occurring within a short period (i.e., hours, days, weeks) can be catastrophic or fatal.  The latter phenomenon, termed “second impact syndrome” has been reported more frequently since it was first characterized in 1984.  This New Yorker article is a good little read for those interested in the after effects of TBI in football players. The story interviews a retired professional football player and describes symptoms such as nausea, frequent angry bouts, vertigo, loose of memory and much much more.  http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/19/091019fa_fact_gladwell

On the positive side the result of outspoken football players is that the league is studying ways to stop the numerous concussions and soaring rates of TBIs. However, football games will continue the way they are now until the solution is found…hmm…for now a football player can only say, “oops, I did it again.”

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13 thoughts on “oops…I did it again

  1. Hey Duy,

    Thanks for linking to the Gladwell article (I especially thought the comparison between the NFL and dogfighting was thought provoking). The NFL, in my opinion, has not done enough to protect their players’ collective well-beings, casting a very negative light on the sport. The fact that football players are showing the same symptoms of dementia in their brain in their 40’s and 50’s as people that are in their 70’s or 80’s is perturbing. My grandfather suffered from dementia before the end of his life and it left him completely debilitated–I can’t even imagine what it is like for players and their respective families, dealing with such a disease at a younger age.

    While the NFL may be doing research into fixing this problem, the culture that surrounds football is going to have to change if they really want to solve it. From a young age, children are taught that football players are tough guys that play through any sort of injury. This culture is encouraged throughout high school, college, and the pros, causing men to keep playing when they should be protecting themselves when they suffer a head injury. The culture, coupled with the fact that NFL contracts are not guaranteed (meaning players could lose their salary by not playing for their teams), are putting players at tremendous mental health risk and create an incentive to keep playing through injury. The culture of football needs to be changed, but I’m afraid that the business aspect behind the NFL will be too blind to protect their players’ lives.

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  2. Michael…absolutely right on. People love seeing the big hits by outrageously large men-and they will keep paying to watch. I guess that’s where the connection to dog-fighting is clear. The football world tried to implement a midget league of sort (under 5’10” and less than 170 Lbs). The thought was it would be a faster game with minimal bodily damage…no one watched/cared for it.

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  3. Although I am a swimmer and do not have to worry about concussions, I worry for my friends who do play contact sports. It is scary that after getting one concussion the chance of getting another one strongly decreases. I’ve seen this happen in one of my friends who by his freshman year at Colby had already received 4 concussions. Now the idea is even more frightening because of the proof that multiple concussions can lead to severe brain problems. It is a positive thing that football players are speaking out nowadays because I believe that even players at the high school and college level don’t speak out enough. All players want to look tough in front of their coach so that they can get more laying time, so they remain silent. Hopefully this information on concussions will convince them to speak out.

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  4. I think this article is very interesting. It is good too point at the risk that athletes face in regard to brain damage ecause it is so often overlooked. One aspect of your article that I found particularly interesting was the part about “second impact syndrome.” This is important because doctors and trainers often don’t look for these mild injuries in athletes or consider them serious. Oftentimes, a mild headache or nausea after a game is considered a normal side-effect of the sport rather than potentially life-threatening. There definitely needs to be more research done on this topic. Especially in sports like football or hockey where minor brain trauma is often seen. Perhaps the most interesting part of all, as Michael alluded to, is that athletes are used to this pain and want to play through anything. I have heard numerous stories of football players going back into games after concussions. If they are willing to do that, there is no doubt that they will return to a game after a seemingly minor head injury. The bright side of this is that these problems are starting to come to light. I’m not sure what the solution is, but there certainly needs to be more research devoted to it and hopefully there will be some progress made in the near future.

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  5. The effects that contact and even non-contact sports (or at least, they’re not supposed to be contact sports) can have on the brain are really scary. The number of concussions that go unannounced each football game and the fact that a collision of two football players can be compared to a head on collision of two cars (yikes!!) show that the sport really is dangerous. Like you pointed out, I think it’s great that the football league is addressing the neurological effects of the game. However, I think it’s important that this concern be expanded to other sports too. What about hockey? Or soccer? Soccer is HUGE in my hometown and I know some athletes have begun wearing specific head bands to prevent concussions when they go to head the ball, but how much does the head band really help? And how much does a helmet and pads in hockey really help? TBIs are really frightening, especially since an accident that may last a millisecond but that occurs multiple times in a game or season can have detrimental effects later in life.

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  6. This post hit home for me– I have a younger cousin who is displaying the effects of a head injury he sustained in a football game. We’ve learned through this process that an individual who sustains a head injury is up to four times more likely to sustain another. With this in mind, his parents are taking him out of football– he still loves to watch games, but is trying tennis instead.

    I agree with what Taylor brought up– I think research needs to be done on the effectiveness of certain pads. Is more expensive equipment more capable of protecting individuals from brain damage? If that is true, does that mean that one’s ability to stay safe in contact sports may be compromised by how much they can spend on equipment? Though it’s a small price to pay for something as crucial as our brain, I think we need to have a better understanding of how best to protect athletes, especially children, before we send them out on to the field.

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  7. Wow, I’m really shocked by the estimated three unreported concussions during each game. So if three are estimated to be unreported, then how many actual concussions are there per game? That’s a really crazy statistic. I’m also kind of surprised that the NFL hasn’t taken more of a precedence on this issue, especially since second impact syndrome is so dangerous. There should definitely be more research in sports medicine so that better protective equipment can be developed.

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  8. It all seems to come down to perspective doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe that a 6’5″ man of steel who has been through so many games–I almost want to say battles–could be damaged to the extent that the article indicates. I imagine it would be hard for them too; their pride, their careers, and their social connection to the team is at stake if they quit. That presents a problem for dealing with this issue, since, as the author said, people are very unlikely to quit just because their brain might get hurt–frankly, it would sound supersitious and silly for said otherwise healthy 250 pound man to quit football because of that. But it’s not.

    Nice post!

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  9. Hey guys!

    I am a little bit of a combat sports enthusiast, so I thought it might be interesting to bring up TBI and how it relates to a number of different combat sports. For different forms of striking-related combat such as Muay-Thai and boxing, general knowlege states that everytime you get knocked out, the chances of you getting knocked out again vastly increase. Time and time again, fans of the “granite-chinned” competitor may be sorely disappointed in their hero, as one knockout on the tail-end of a career marked by no knock-out losses will suddenly be followed with one knockout loss and then three more following it shortly. As far as combat sports go, mixed martial arts (think UFC) seem to be the most brutal selection, however the actual risk of TBI is rather low compared to other sports because the event is stopped as soon as the fighter is being beaten senseless. In contrast, a competitor in boxing may be getting beaten senseless, but he will then be allowed to stand up again and again only to receive more lasting punishment. Even Muhammed Ali, one of the most famous elusive-counterpunchers in boxing history did not make it into old age without a degenerative brain disease. While this may seem like a scary prospect, some researchers suggest that the rates of TBI may actually be worse than in football because massive head trauma is sort of the name of the game. I hope that I have shed light on TBI and combat sports, and I also hope that this post does not make me sound like too much of a fanboy…

    -Michael S.

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  10. Although Colby’s sports don’t QUITE compare to the level at which NFL/other national sports teams play (but almost), I’ve seen more awareness about concussions at Colby than I did in high school. Athletes who play contact sports have to take a baseline concussion test at the beginning of their freshman season so that if a concussion is suspected, re-taking the test helps “diagnose” a concussion or TBI. They’re pretty long and annoying tests that you take on the computer, but I’d say it’s definitely worth it if the baseline is needed later on. Of course, some people intentionally don’t do very well in hopes that if they do get a concussion their score will be about the same, but it’s better than nothing!

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  11. woah.

    and that is why i am so glad i am not a football player/contact sport athelete and will enjoy my brain for as long as possible 🙂

    I can’t even imagine the problems that occurred before the helmets we have today..back when it was just a leather hat.. yikes.

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  12. Men who play rugby or “aussie rules” don’t even wear helmets or padding. I used to play touch rugby in high school, and I was diving for a girl once and smashed my head against hers and got this HUGE egg on my forehead. They took me to the hospital and I had a concussion, and I know a guy at Colby that has had so many he can’t play any sports anymore. I think concussions are often forgotten about when it comes to TBI’s, or that there isn’t enough importance stressed upon it, and it happens so often in sports that there should be more awareness of the serious effects it can cause later on in life.

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