Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Role Of Concussions In College Football

Photo Credit: US Magazine
I'm going to take this opportunity to touch on a subject that I think will only loom larger in upcoming years. The controversy surrounding concussions in football. Sure, this isn't a Michigan specific area, as concussions can happen in any sport, any person, high school level, college or pro, but I still want to address it.

I'm sure you're all aware of the latest tragedy involving Junior Seau. The former Patriots and Chargers All-Pro is suspected to have committed suicide last week when it was determined he died due to a self inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Seau's family later gave permission to science to see if he suffered from repeated concussions, or possibly Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is sustained brain damage and can only be diagnosed after death.  Seau's death marks the 12th NFL player known to have committed suicide in the past 25 years. Dave Duerson of the Bears and Andre Waters of the Chiefs are other notable players. Alex Karra,s who suffers from dementia and is a former Detroit Lion, is just one of the more prominent names leading a lawsuit against the NFL. 

I know stories that involve concussions seem to grab the media's attention more often than not. Roger Goodell and the NFL will probably be investing new rules, possibly new equipment. What I wonder, is what Jim Delany, other conference presidents, and Mark Emmert (president of the NCAA) will do now. For example, Kenny Demens was recovering from a concussion and still played in the spring game. A couple years ago, Tate Forcier sustained a concussion in the game against Iowa. 

The law requires that a player who shows signs of a concussion be removed from a game or practice, and bars the player from competing again until being cleared by a licensed health care professional trained in concussion evaluation and management.  As of now, 31 states have such laws to try to curb further damage to younger players. Last year, Emmert and Goodell sent letters to other states, such as Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin to urge the passing of such laws.

Now I will say this. The volume of concussions sustained is more prevalent on the high school level than perhaps any other. That only makes sense when you think of the number of high school players who don't go on to college playing sports. That number lessens even more when you consider the tiny fraction of those players that do go on to play in college, and that college is Michigan. I don't know what all is done when a scholarship is offered to a player. Do they look at that players medical histories and records? It's impossible to look at game tape of one player, from pee wees to high school to determine whether or not they might have sustained some form of concussion or brain damage.

The parental argument can also come into play. Say you're a parent of a high school running back, and your son complains of dizziness after a game. That parent might not be aware of how most concussions occur, so they might not think anything of it and let their son go on doing normal activities. Or, you can go to the other end of the spectrum and you are one of those parents who stay on top of every possibly detail, so that when your son does indeed get his head clocked around, and he complains of certain symptoms; how do you let him continue on when you're in constant fear something worse could happen to him?

When we watch football, we cheer when we see the bone crunching hits. As rabid, bloodthirsty fans who yearn for the punishing days that were played years ago, we look forward to the gladiator style wreckage that can be seen in a football stadium. That is one thing that will never change. I admit that I cheer for our defense to deliver such hits. I don't want to see anyone get hurt on purpose, or accident, but we still want big hits. I want a good, clean match-up between Michigan and the losing team (haha). Yet, as a parent and a fan, I remain constantly fearful for the health of the players on the field. If I had to choose between a concussion, brain damage, dementia, or or another medical hardship and a win over a rival team, I would choose the latter every time.  For most of these players, they will still be trying to become productive citizens after college and these injuries could destroy their entire lives.

The pundits who are basically forecasting the death of football in a few decades? They can say what they want, and use statistics to back up their opinions. I believe the laws and equipment will be in place to prevent that. Football is a multi-billion dollar sport that won't lose steam for a long time. With such a potent fan base that we have here at Michigan, our thoughts and prayers should be the Seau family and we need to make sure that we're advocating the safety measures that will make sure the players are safe and we can enjoy football for a long time.

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