Illinois athletes partake in concussion survey

Six hundred people, including players, coaches, parents and athletic trainers, took part in an in-depth national survey about high school football concussions recently for ESPN The Magazine. The results were published in the current issue on this week’s newsstand.

Nearly 100 of the surveys were conducted by myself and answered by coaches, players, parents and athletic trainers in the state of Illinois.

The results within the Illinois high school football community were similar to those on a national scale. Generally, coaches, parents and athletic trainers are very concerned with concussions, and high school players are not as much. Some of the answers were shocking.

For the complete survey, pick up the Dec. 27 issue of ESPN The Magazine, but here’s a taste of some of the more interesting responses given within the state’s surveys.

• When asked if a good chance at playing in the NFL worth the possibility of permanent brain damage, one player answered, “Yes, you can make enough money to live with brain damage.” Another player answered, “I would sacrifice the long-term possibilities for that opportunity to play in the NFL. Hopefully by the time I get older, there might be better medicine and care for former players in the NFL.” One coach answered, “If anyone thought that it is worth playing in the NFL and knows for a fact that they would be damaged in their brain for life they would be crazy. But this simply isn’t the case at all. Can it happen, yes, but the odds are very unlikely. We live in a world that if it happens to someone else, then it certainly will happen to everyone. That’s nuts. I had six major concussions and I am perfectly fine and I am sure there are lots of athletes like me. Yes, are there some that are struggling, yes, and that is unfortunate. We are much more aware of the side effects, which will help but we can’t live in fear.” One athletic trainer said, “Yes. The chance of developing brain damage exists at all levels of football. The questions really should be is it worth playing football at any level then?”

• When asked if their team reached the state title game and their star player suffered a concussion, would they rather lose the game because the star player sat out or win the game because he risked playing through it, one player said, “Win the game because this could be his best moment in football and it’s at the biggest stage.” Another player answered, “Win the game. That would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Wounds heal, memories last forever.” Another player said, “Win the game because he risked playing through it because having worked so hard for so long time and just because of a concussion would leave the entire team thinking what if he played.”

• Most coaches gave a letter grade of “A” to the condition of their helmets, but there were a few who said their team’s helmets were subpar. One coach said, “C . We don't have many of the newest helmets. It is very expensive to replace all of our helmets with the most recent models.” One parent said, “I played football in the 70’s, and I pick up these football helmets and they weight about 20 pounds. I don’t know how much better they can make these helmets.”

• When asked how big a concern concussions are on their team with 1 equaling “They’re not an issue” and 10 equaling “They’re an enormous issue”, one coach answered, “8. We lost four players for multiple weeks due to concussions this season. I would like to know what kind of impact the wearing of a custom-fit mouth piece would have on reducing concussions.”

• When asked if they ever had a concussion, one coach said, “I played high school football in the early 70’s, and we called it getting your bell rung. I only remember getting my bell rung once where I didn’t know where I was for a while. But I never had the symptoms today’s players have. I had a slight headache that went away after a few hours. Today, players get headaches that can last for days.” Another coach said, “When I played they were never diagnosed. I remember situations where I was completely out and continued in the game. Still don’t remember the end of the game. I know there were others, just not as severe. I have memory issues today, right or wrong, I attribute them to the concussions I suffered while I played.”

• When asked if after a concussion do players sit out too long, not long enough or the right amount of time, one coach answered, “After ignoring the issue for way too long, I think there have been great strides in the recognition and diagnosis of concussions over the last 10 years. However, I do think that we might be swinging the pendulum way too far the other way. Every case is different and that’s the medical personnel’s job to make that decision.” One parent answered, “Today, due to the sensitivity and lack of info on the subject, I think players are sitting out too long. Two years ago, they were not sitting out long enough.” Another parent said, “Some players don’t sit out long enough. If they’re key players and the coaches want to get them back in the game, they will.” One athletic trainer answered, “Not long enough. There are too many people out there that think their student-athletes are comparable to the athletes we see in the NFL. Young adults take longer to heal, complete rest is most important for healing. Not enough parents and coaches are aware of the dangers of putting a child back on the field too soon. Plus, each head injury is so complex and cannot be compared to any other injury. An ATC cannot tape and splint a brain that we know may not recover without proper rest.”

• When asked if a player complains of only a headache. is it okay for him to return to the game, one athletic trainer answered, “No, it is not okay, a headache is one of many symptoms of a concussion. Concussion symptoms may not present themselves for 24 to 48 hours after a hit in some cases. Better safe than sorry.” Another athletic trainer said, “No, that may be due to getting hit in the head or a sudden jolt or quick movement from a tackle which may lead to second-impact syndrome if allowed to play and the player were to get hit again. Too risky to allow them back into play.” But another athletic trainer said, “Yes, the athlete can return to the game assuming no concussions. Headaches can be caused by many reasons and not just a concussion. Is the athlete dehydrated, were they symptomatic before the game?”