INSIDE THE IMPACT: Concussion awareness on the rise
A concussion–when the brain moves around inside the skull–can happen anywhere. When it comes to contact sports, they’re most common in football.
“The nature of the game, you’re not ever going to be able to prevent all of those things,” Northside coach Kevin Kinsler says.
“Targeting and where you hit players now has a great effect on the game,” Westside coach Sheddrick Risper says. “But as far as being aggressive and getting ready to hit a guy and saying, ‘Oh, now I may get a concussion,’ or ‘I may get a concussion,’ I don’t think football players think like that.”
That mindset could be in the process of changing. The National Football League (NFL) reached a $765 million settlement last year with former players living with head injuries. A federal judge has since rejected the settlement, saying it’s not enough.
“You don’t treat it like you did many years ago where you said, ‘You got your bell rung,'” Stratford Academy coach Mark Farriba says.
“Back in the days when I played,” Risper adds, “If we had concussions, it was, ‘You’ll be all right. Let’s go.'”
Over the years, the game itself hasn’t changed much, but the players are now better protected.
“Now you have two inches of padding inside a helmet,” Kinsler says. “Back then, you just had some leather straps inside your helmet, and it was like a time bomb.”
It’s hard to tell whether these improvements are helping. Most concussions go unreported, making the statistics inaccurate. Despite the data fumble, many coaches and trainers take concussions seriously.
“We have a trainer that’s with us every day,” Warner Robins coach Bryan Way says. “That’s really a blessing.”
“Can they recall the incident in which they got hit?” asks Travis Polk, a trainer with the Warner Robins football team. “Do they have a loss of memory? Do they know where they are? Just basic questions, and then we go into looking at their physical characteristics, as far as their eye movement, their ability to hear, the feeling of nauseousness.”
If coaches and trainers determine their player has a concussion, he’s taken out of the game immediately. Parents should also keep an eye on their student-athlete for strange behavior, including memory loss.
“Sometimes, concussions–they come maybe a day or two after–the full effects,” Risper says. “It may be worse after than it really looks, so it’s good that they’re taking safety precautions.”
Some coaches are changing the way they teach their players how to tackle. Instead of using their heads, players are being taught to use their shoulders. Super Bowl champion coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks released a video describing the technique, which is more like what you would see in a rugby match.
Georgia lawmakers have joined the concussion prevention game. Taking players off the field after suspected head injuries is now required by law. That’s because those big hits can have a lasting impact on players, even later in life.
Macon native turned pro: Dealing with concussions
The year was 1982. Roger Jackson suited up to play defensive back for the Denver Broncos. It was a dream come true, but it took one blow to the head for Jackson to realize how big of an impact those hits on the field can have on a player’s life.
“It’s the same hits that we’ve had all the time,” Jackson says. “We’ve got back up and played or went to the sidelines–smelling salt–you know. But now, I think equipment plays a part in today’s concussion.”
Keeping track of every day life become harder. Jackson visits doctors twice a year for checkups.
“Sometimes loss of memory,” Jackon says. “Sometimes you don’t pay it any attention as you get up in age. You stumble and you trip up. Those are some of the abnormal things that happen.”
State Rep. Jimmy Pruett of Eastman says those are the same side effects that 3.7 million people suffer every year.
“We know that this is a real issue,” Pruett says. “Particularly with the second trauma.”
Along with other representatives, Pruett helped write “The Return to Play Act” in 2013.
“Our goal is to ensure that no player who has the symptoms or encountered a concussion would ever go back to play until they’re fully healed,” Pruett says.
Pruett says because of the act, players and parents are becoming more aware of the long-term effects–mentally, emotionally and physically.
“Education is our issue,” he says. “We just can’t get people educated.”
Dr. Shelly Street Callender, a sports medicine physician, points out resources are available to learn more about concussions.
“Sustaining these injuries could be detrimental to sustaining their adult livelihood,” Callender says.
“A kid can lose his whole athletic future by getting two or three serious concussions in a row at a young age,” Jackson says.
The act teaches more young athletes who have dreams of playing pro ball like Jackson to know when the time is right to play or sit on the sidelines.
“One of the blessings that’s come out of this so far is that kids are now coming forward and they’re saying, ‘Hey man, I don’t feel just right, yeah I just got my bell rung,” Pruett says.
They’re hard hits that deserve attention immediately, major or minor.