Injuries in sports aren’t a new idea. They’re a reality. But when your body is healthy enough to play but your mind isn’t, that’s where players, coaches, fans and parents can differ.
Concussions in sports today are no laughing matter. The days of “I’m fine coach, put me in,” are over. With advancement in technology and medicine, trainers and doctors can more accurately determine whether a person is concussed.
Brain damage from direct head contact can severely injure an athlete on the playing field, but repeated contact to the head can be even worse. Brain diseases such as CTE, dementia and depression can have dramatic effects on a person later in their life.
Former NFL linebacker and Hall of Famer Junior Seau played 19 seasons for three different teams before retiring in 2010. Seau suffered from severe depression, taking his own life in 2012 at the age of 43. An analysis of Seau’s brain revealed that he had CTE and that it likely impacted his choice to end his life.
Controversy continues to surround the NFL with the release of the movie “Concussion,” coming out on Christmas day. The movie highlights how repeated head trauma increases the chance for more harmful symptoms, such as memory loss and depression, later in life.
Most recently in the NFL, Wes Welker signed with the St. Louis Rams despite his concussion history. The wide receiver has suffered three concussions in a little over a year.
Many people, including former players, think this is a risky move for Welker and say he should just call it quits.
“I don’t want Wes to play for my own personal reasons,” said former teammate Champ Bailey. “It’s a serious thing when you start talking about your head. For him to have to worry about that at a young age that he is now, he has to think about those years to come.”
Head injuries have not only been in the spotlight in football, but more recently other sports have changed their policies to limit concussions.
In 2010, U S.A. Hockey banned body checking at the peewee level, 11- and 12-year-olds, to improve player safety.
A study of 2,000 11- and 12-year-olds in Alberta and Quebec by Dr. Carolyn Emery of the University of Calgary compared the rate of head and neck injuries. It showed that Alberta players sustained four times as many concussions as the Quebec players and three times as many serious injuries, those that sidelined a player for a week or more. Quebec does not allow body checking until 13. It further found that if body checking in Alberta was pushed back to age 13, the annual number of serious injuries among 11- and 12-year-olds there would fall by an estimated 1,000, and concussions would fall by an estimated 400 according, to a 2010 New York Times article.
Most recently U.S. Soccer has restricted heading the ball for youth players. Additionally, 11- to 13-year-olds can only head the ball during practices and players 10 and under are banned from heading the ball.
The changes came after a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of parents and players last year in U.S. District Court in California that sought rule changes preventing head injuries. The lawsuit charged FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization with negligence for not addressing the issue. In 2010, more high school soccer players suffered concussions (50,000) than athletes in wrestling, baseball, basketball and softball combined, the lawsuit noted, according to a recent New York Times article.
The goal behind these rule changes also allow players to increase their skills at a time in their life when cognitive development is so important.