University athletics tackles concussion concerns
Wake Forest football continues with its strict and successful concussion treatment and education for student-athletes amid mounting national concerns over long-term brain damage.
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“I don’t have a concern because we really have had no need to change,” Don Steelman, assistant athletic trainer in charge of football, said. “The rates [of concussions] may be a little bit higher, but that is a result of better education of the athletes. They’re not hiding it anymore, they’re not trying to be tough and doing something dangerous. All the publicity about the NFL has contributed to that awareness as well.”
President Obama recently said that with the long-term damage caused by repeated concussions, the game will have to change at the risk of seeming less entertaining. With evidence of a link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, lending to the number of damage suits by National Football League retirees reaching 4,000 and counting, the NFL has begun issuing rule changes.
The NFL Players’ Association has just proposed adding independent, possibly ‘unbiased’ neurology specialists on the sidelines during games for concussion issues. “Independent neurologists on the sidelines are not fruitful, they are actually a huge problem,” Greg Collins, Wake Forest’s assistant athletic director of Sports Medicine and head athletic trainer, said. “The team physicians have developed relationships with athletes so they would see the little behavior changes that are often the first signs of concussions. You can’t see the evidence if he’s not your athlete.”
Collins and his colleagues monitor players closely, especially ones with a history of concussions.
Once diagnosed, a player must follow precise, proven rules for gradual recovery.
“If an athlete has a concussion, he is not allowed to return to the team for at least a week,” Collins said.
“That is extremely controversial with other schools’ programs. Other teams use other reasons for a player’s injury, like ‘Oh, he just hurt his neck, he’s fine.’ It’s the same in the NFL. It places the athletes and the team at risk.” Cody Preble expresses his opinion on the way the coaches and trainers treat concussions.
“I think they handle concussions the right way,” Preble, a sophomore football center who suffered the second of his two documented concussions during a practice at Wake, said.
Players follow a certain recovery process to decrease recovery time.
“Players really begin to shut the brain down, not just limiting physical activity but also mental activity such as … watching TV, Basically they need to rest their brains so they sit looking at their white walls and are bored to death,” Steelman explained. “It does seem to decrease the amount of recovery time.”
Wake football also participated in a helmet study two years ago which tried to see a correlation between the magnitude of specific hits and increased concussion chances, even appearing with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center employees in a commercial by Toyota, a sponsor. The helmets had sensors that would elicit a warning to computers on the sidelines if a certain threshold was passed, and the staff would watch those players more closely.
“They set the threshold because they did seem to see more of an increase in concussions at that level,” Steelman said. Some athletes don’t worry about concussions.
“I’m not worried [about my future health],” Preble said.
“I’ve never had a concussion where you forget everything and then you get too behind in football, which is what none of us want.”
However, coaches still seriously consider the side effects that may become a factor, and exactly how many concussions constitute too many.
“One of the greatest questions we’re trying to deal with is how many concussions is too many?” Collins continued.
“Six or seven minor concussions? No one knows what the magic number is,” he said. “It may not affect you now but it will at 50 when you’re done playing.”