"Oooohhhhh and he's down with a hard tackle! Let's look at the replay. You can see their helmets collide during the tackle and they're both on the floor looking dazed. Looks like one of them may have a concussion.”
A concussion, a brain injury caused by a blow to the head, "is very hard to spot actually. We like to call it the invisible injury," said Cliff Robbins, Education and Research Programs Manager of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, an organization committed to protecting athletes and families from concussions through research, policy and education.
As you might imagine with an injury that you cannot see, only one in six concussions is ever diagnosed, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Robbins explains, "When you knock your head around, [the brain] can kind of jiggle and change shape a little bit, and that can cause damage to the brain tissue, and when the damage is great enough, it changes the way that our brain functions."
During teenage years, the brain goes through a lot of development. "If you have a brain injury during those really important years, the consequences may take years to become apparent," Robbins stated. In other words, if you get "trucked" freshmen year during a game, you may not know you suffered a concussion until senior year or even later in life.
According to the Boston Globe, a survey of 6,000 public school students in Massachusetts found that among high school athletes, 14 percent had experienced concussion-like symptoms such as memory problems, blurry vision, headaches, or vomiting after being hit in the head while playing sports. The survey also found that 50 percent of student athletes who experienced concussion like symptoms kept playing afterward.
While significant research about concussions has been released, many athletes do not fear the consequences. Tyler Medeiros, a sophomore on the football team at Cristo Rey Boston High school, said, “Yes, I would still play after an injury. I can come back stronger and improve the mistake I made to get that injury.”
Medeiros knows there is always the possibility of sustaining an injury but says, “I feel protected with my gear because the helmets must be very fitted, so that they stay on your head and don’t turn on your face. My girdle and shoulder pads are heavily padded and strapped on.”
Depending on the severity of the injury, students can miss weeks - maybe even months - of school in order to recover. This lost time can set them back in their academics as they struggle to either keep up or catch up. If left untreated, concussions can affect long-term memory, learning, motor control and speech.
While student athletes are told helmets are their best protection, some helmet manufacturers carry a warning label stating that helmets cannot fully protect you from brain injuries. “To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football,” reads the warning label on Shutt’s Sports brand helmets. These warnings may already be having an impact. ESPN has reported a decline in participation in youth football.
“The medics rush to the field to check the players out. One of them is benched for the rest of the game until a doctor has a chance to fully diagnose him.”