Part III: Concussions in Football – Football From a Parent’s Perspective
On Thanksgiving night, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell suffered a head injury that was terrifying to watch.
Bell dove into the end zone while leading with his head, as he stretched toward the goal-line. At the same time, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith tried to tackle Bell, and the two ended up making head-to-head contact.
Bell's helmet came off, and after the play, he would hit his head on the ground in the end zone. Bell suffered a concussion, while Smith was reported to be shaken up on the play.
Thayne Munce, Ph.D., Associate Director of the National Institute for Athletic Health and Performance, tells parents to weigh the risks and rewards when making this decision.
"There is an inherent risk, but what are those benefits and what's the reward that your son gets by playing this game and is that great enough to offset the potential risk?"
A parent's worst nightmare may be watching their child lay on the field or on the court in agony after an injury. These moments can be difficult to swallow, but a few parents share why they let their children play sports.
Ken Sproles and Shawn Boyle are heavily involved in youth football in South Dakota, and both have sons that play football, as well as other children that play other sports. Both understand the risks that come with playing the football, yet realize that there is a return on investment as well.
Boyle has twin sons that play football, and one of them has received a concussion. He recognized that the concussion needed to be dealt with seriously, and sat him out for three weeks. He says concussions are going to happen, but in the end, the benefits of playing football are just as great.
"It's part of the game, and it happens, however, people need all the facts and perspective. These things happen in backyards on skateboards much more often. Football teaches a lot about life and discipline. Ups and downs. Working together through adversity. It builds a sense of community and camaraderie, and teaches a lot of life lessons. It's unique and special. They are not afraid to play in the mud, and there's a sense of determination and perseverance."
Sproles agrees that it can be difficult to make a decision to allow your kids to participate in sports. He has a son that plays football, a daughter that swims competitively, and another son that runs in cross-country.
He actually worries the most about his son that is in cross country because he has asthma and can have a very difficult time breathing after a run. He says there are risks in most sports.
"My wife and I want the best for our kids and for them to live life to the fullest. We believe sports play a roll in that. We weigh the options and ask the question "Is the upside greater than the risk?"
"Football has risks but it also has an upside. One of the upsides with football is that it is a selfless sport in that there are many players that will never touch the ball. Imagine if you are a basketball player and never touch the basketball or a soccer player that never kicks the ball.Yet as a lineman in football, our son will most likely never touch the ball. Through football, our son is learning to put others before himself while working towards a common goal. That's a huge upside."
Parents, like Boyle and Sproles, need to have a balanced perspective and have conversations that don't allow the risks to outweigh the positives.
Coaches and trainers are actively finding ways to decrease risks, and want the best for their players. Alternative tackling techniques to avoid head-to-head contact are taught, off-the-field strength training is being coached, and advanced medical technology is being provided on the sidelines.
Munce shares that parents need to get involved in the awareness of player safety and health, too.
"One, by making sure that if their sons are playing football, that the coaches are well-trained. Parents can spend time at practice making sure the coaches are doing drills and activities that are appropriate for the age of the athletes and be pro-active in speaking out or pulling their kid from a team if they feel their son is being put at a successive risk. Two, by making sure their kids have the properly fitted equipment. There is only so much a helmet can do to limit concussions, but a helmet needs to be properly fitted and worn correctly in order to have any benefit or effectiveness at reducing risk. Buckle the chin strap, and wear as its intended to be worn. Be aware of the issue and understand what the basic symptoms of a concussions and head injury are. Don't play them if you see those signs and symptoms in your son who plays, and educate him as well. Take prompt action if a suspected injury has occurred seeking medical attention and follow the instructions and care of that medical care provider."
To be fair, concussions aren't just caused in football, but in many sports, too. There are concussions that occur in ice hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, wrestling, cheer and dance, etc. Football may receiving the most attention for player safety and health, but the level of concern should be warranted all across the board.
"Virtually, in any sport that exists, there's a possibility with a blow to the head that can cause a concussion. So, concussion awareness has to be universal among parents and players. The same steps need to be taken if a cheerleader is dropped from a formation, and hits her head. Concussions are just as serious on the football field as if a baseball player gets hit in the knee while sliding into a base or is beaned in the head with a baseball. Those have the same severity of the possibility of concussions. So, parents need to be aware of that regardless of what sport their son or daughter plays," adds Munce.
If you are reading as a parent, or as athletes that play sports, the awareness of the risks and rewards of sports is vital. Stay tuned to ESPN 99.1 in the coming week's to learn what a concussion is, the treatment, and the effects of a concussion from a medical standpoint.