“Because I love to play.” This is the most common reason why high school football players keep their concussions to themselves, but is it worth the risk of permanent brain damage?
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions. Effects are usually temporary, and can include headaches and impaired concentration, balance, memory or judgment. Statistics show that a football player in high school will take 200 to 1,800 hits to the head in a single season.
Mark Johnson, Smith-Cotton High School’s football coach, who retired after the 2013 season, was asked in October about the concussions he saw affecting his team.
“Concussions aren’t really common. This season so far, we’ve only had three,” he said. When asked how serious a concussion is, he replied, “Concussions are taken very seriously, with all the research being done, it’s a pretty big deal, (more) than what it used to be.”
High school football also is consistently shown in studies to be the sport with the greatest proportion of concussions (47 percent). What is so dangerous about keeping concussions a secret is what is called “second impact syndrome.” When you have a concussion, your brain is extra vulnerable. That means if you get hit again, it is going to be a more serious injury.
So why risk it? Smith-Cotton senior Jacob Weeks has played football for six years and admitted he had sustained a concussion.
“I know it was wrong, but I didn’t tell anyone about my concussion,” Weeks said. “I love football, a lot, and that means I will do anything to win for my team and I will not let my team down.”
Learning the effects of head impacts on high school football players is especially important, since their brains are still developing. Even if the damage isn’t as serious as a concussion, it could still affect them later in life.
Freshman Nathan White sustained a concussion when he was hit in the back of the head with a football before a practice. He was not wearing his helmet at the time.
“It affected Nathan’s short term memory, balance and his ability to concentrate,” said his father Michael White, via email. Nathan went to the emergency room, where doctors performed a MRI to ensure there was no internal hemorrhaging.
“As a parent our biggest concern was Nathan’s health,” Michael wrote. “With a concussion it is very hard to diagnose the severity and how long the rehabilitation will take. A concussion is hard to understand as a parent, but the short-term effects are detrimental because it is stressful on the individual and only rest and time can heal it.”
Concussions are a big deal, plain and simple. Parents know it, coaches understand it, and players realize it, so as much as they love to play the game, either it be for the rush, for the fame, or for the glory, is it truly worth it?
This week, the Sedalia Democrat will publish stories written by students in the Journalistic Writing class at Smith-Cotton High School. Over the past few months, these young reporters learned to research their topics, conduct interviews and write in journalistic styles.