Warnings and dangers of head injuries in sports

Noah Aberegg, Staff Reporter

Every day, athletes push through injuries they deem as insignificant, sometimes making them worse, while sometimes not affecting them. Concussions, however, are incredibly serious. Players need to take the implications and the major consequences of concussion more seriously, in order to protect their health and look out for the health of their teammates. 

Concussions are a serious and sometimes life-threatening neurological injury that is often overlooked in athletics, particularly football. They happen in almost every sport and, despite the seriousness of concussions, players frequently downplay the injury and symptoms associated with it. In addition, it becomes even more serious when they are not treated properly. Players need to report their symptoms, be properly diagnosed, and be taken care of before they are to return to play. 

At Bellefonte High School, there is a multi-step process to return to play following a concussion. According to the Bellefonte Area School District Concussion Management Plan, in order to return to play following a concussion, an athlete must be evaluated by a licensed physician, be symptom free, return to the level of their baseline concussion testing, complete a five-phase return to participation program, and be evaluated and cleared for return to play in writing by a licensed physician. The five-phase return to participation program consists of light aerobic exercises with no resistance, followed by sports-specific activity, non-contact training drills with resistance training, and full-contact training drills. 

When players report their symptoms and are treated with concussion plans like these, recovery often goes well and the outcome is far less serious. However, it is when players do not report their symptoms and concussion plans are executed improperly that the recovery time increases and the effects are far more severe. 

“What athletes need to understand is that when they do not say anything about a head injury and they continue playing, the head injury can be worse and recovery time increases dramatically, especially when another head injury occurs before the first one is healed,” Bellefonte Athletic Trainer Kelsey Rote said. “If we notice something or a coach notices something, that athlete is pulled from play immediately for a proper evaluation.”

Unfortunately, many players still do not take that advice seriously. Most players, if they are able, will play through any pain or injury in order to get a win. This is the case for the Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback, Joe Burrow, throughout his early years up to his current NFL time. 

In a discussion with Colin Cowherd on his podcast, Joe Burrow said, “I had some [games] where I don’t remember the second half or I don’t remember the entire game. Part of what we’ve signed up [for].” 

While many players believe it is just part of the game, that is not the way it should be. In a study conducted by Boston University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 99% of brains obtained from the National Football League players contained Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). 

CTE is a brain condition that is caused by repeated blows to the head and repeated concussions. This is an incredibly serious long-term effect of concussions that can include symptoms like memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and impulse control problems. In addition to athletes taking care of themselves, coaches and training staff need to pay serious attention to concussion-like symptoms and take the proper steps to diagnose and treat them.

For Miami Dolphins Quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, this was not the case. During the game on Sunday, September 25 against the Buffalo Bills, he landed hard against the turf and took a severe hit to the head. As he stood up, he stumbled around and immediately entered concussion protocol. He passed and returned to play for the second-half of the game and played in a quick turnaround Thursday night matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Early in the first half, Tagovailoa once again experienced a hit to the head. This time his hands went into a fencing response, or his hands extended, signifying a traumatic brain injury. 

“My reaction to Tua’s first injury on Sunday vs. the Bills was shocking when I heard he was returning for the second half of the game after hitting his head on the field and stumbling to get up. Then, another surprise to find out he is playing in a quick turnaround game on Thursday night. When his second injury happened and he hit his head again, I was honestly scared for him,” Rote said.

While it is necessary that coaches pay close attention to their athletes and their health, it is equally vital for players to report any concussion-related symptoms they have to their coaches and trainers. According to BrainLine, nearly 50% of concussions go unreported, and according to Rote, this is primarily due to athletes not saying anything about their symptoms. 

“I really hope that my athletes were watching that injury [Tua Tagovailoa] that night, just so they can see what happens when a concussion isn’t cared for properly. Maybe then they won’t be mad at me for holding them out when they have a head injury and instead understand the importance of why I do what I do,” Rote said.