The concern about concussions has produced a lot of changes in the world of sports.
First, there appears to have been an increased amount of research about the causes and effects of concussions among athletes who are participating in a wide range of sports.
Psychologists and neurologists are examining the long and short term effects that these kinds of injuries can have on competitors.
Second, equipment manufacturers are now exploring ways to redesign helmets to help to minimize and prevent concussions amongst athletes.
Third, some former football players have become part of a class action suit against the NFL claiming that they were harmed by the league’s policies and procedures. This lawsuit is bringing a lot of attention to the problems associated with head injuries and sports.
Fourth, other sports, including hockey, soccer, lacrosse, rugby and boxing are starting to look at the issue of concussions. Female soccer also now seems concerned about concussions among athletes competing in this sport.
Fifth, football leagues and football coaches are now changing the way they train and the way they allow youngsters to tackle one another in practice and in games.
Sixth, it appears that parents, municipalities and schools are now questioning whether playing football and other contact sports is really in their child’s best interest.
Seventh, we know much more about the incidence, diagnosis effects, nature and treatment of concussions and head injuries in sports than we did five or ten years ago.
A friend of mine played Division I college football in the fifties. Back then, when a player took a blow to the head, the coach would hold up five fingers. He would ask the player how many fingers he saw. It the player answered correctly, the coach would send him back into the game.
My friend said, “When I could not see I would just guess. Players who were taking a beating or who felt the game was over, would say the wrong number of fingers to avoid being sent back into the game.”
Obviously, this primitive method of diagnosing concussions had some serious limitations. While we have come a long way in the study of concussions and sports injuries, clearly, more work needs to be done.
In sports like boxing, mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting, one of the goals is to induce a concussion in your opponent. While I am a big fan of boxing, I have seen many ex-fighters who have serious cognitive problems as a result of taking too many blows to the head in practice and in competition. There may be no way to protect fighters in these sports from serious concussions.
Football is a big part of Americana. I remain hopeful and confident that we will find a way to continue to play most contact sports while we lower the incidence of concussions.