Concussions: the most dangerous issue in sports

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It’s no secret that concussions have become one of the most prominent injuries in recent memory. With more and more research noting the permanent long-term effects of concussions, we have seen an improved effort in concussion prevention, rehabilitation and overall awareness within sports of all levels.

Concussions are most common in sports such as hockey, rugby and most notably, football. However, they can occur in any athlete in any sport given the circumstances. The National Football League has been heavily criticized for a lack of acknowledgment surrounding concussions, with a large number of alumni developing a crippling brain disease that can only be diagnosed posthumously called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE for short.

CTE is a disease that affects the brain after sustaining multiple head injuries or failing to recover after a concussion. Not only does it affect memory, but it also affects mood, often leading to rage, depression, confusion and more. Over time, CTE can eventually lead to dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, which is especially devastating considering these players were once at the highest possible level of sport just years prior. Because of all the damage the brain has sustained, it is not uncommon for those affected by the disease to commit suicide as a result. NFL legends such as Mike Webster, Junior Seau, Terry Long, Andre Waters and many more have taken their lives due to this disease. The list has over 40 names, with a recent study that showed 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players who donated their brain for research had some form of CTE.

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested and convicted for first-degree murder, committed suicide in prison earlier this year at age 27. It was later revealed following an autopsy that Hernandez did in fact have CTE, which most likely led to his death. What we do know for sure, is the seriousness of this disease, which can all be traced back to concussions and head injuries.

According to The Silhouette as of 2015, 36 per cent of Ontario University Athletics (OUA)varsity athletes have suffered multiple concussions and 78 per cent of those concussions occur in games (as opposed to practices/training). But here’s the kicker: an estimated 47 per cent of athletes who suffer concussions do not report any symptoms and continue to play.

Badgers men’s rugby head coach Philip Sullivan said that while his players are fully aware of the risks, passion still drives them to play.

“I think the bottom line is the love of the game.  Rugby players love rugby; it’s a great team game, it’s fast and it’s physical. And rugby players love all of that,” said Sullivan. “There is definitely a growing awareness of the risk of concussions in the sport and players are more knowledgeable about the long term impacts. I know several players who have decided to walk away from the game because of this and they all miss playing.”

Much like professional sports leagues, schools and other teams have developed a concussion protocol that a player who has sustained a concussion must go through and ultimately pass before being cleared to resume playing.

Coach Sullivan spoke on his team’s concussion protocol: “We follow a concussion protocol and a return to play protocol that is overseen by athletic therapy and sport medicine at Brock. It involves a gradual return to activity that is overseen by the professionals. My main job is to make sure the players listen to these professionals.”

Concussions are unlike all other injuries; whereas a sprain, tear, or break has a typical recovery timeline, concussions are quite random when it comes to healing time. It can range from weeks, to months, or in extreme cases years before a concussed individual has recovered. Even one concussion, let alone several, can lead to serious brain damage, sometimes enough to end a player’s career.

Brock University offers their own student health services, located in Harrison Hall, where students and athletes alike can receive help and treatment for concussion symptoms.

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