Beall: Shaking off concussions

BY MIKE BEALL | JULY 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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My sophomore year of high school, I played on the JV football team, and I got a concussion.
I don’t have the stereotypically muscular build of a football player, and I never took the weight room seriously, so it could be thought of as a miracle that I didn’t get injured as often or as badly as I could have been, but head injuries do not care how big you are and if you play football long enough, you’ve probably had a concussion or two.

A lot has been done in the last few years since I banged my head in practice. Medical studies have been performed, former NFL players suffering from debilitating mental illnesses have spoken out, and controversial fines and suspensions have been handed out for big hits. Studies such as the current collaboration between the Big Ten and Ivy League schools are a good start, but fines, suspensions, and talking points from the highest sports leagues aren’t enough to change the culture of these sports.

We still praise big hits and ignore the injuries.

Athletes continue to ignore reporting concussion symptoms to avoid looking weak, and this is exactly what I did when I received my injury. But, perhaps more importantly everyone surrounding the injured individual often ignores concussion symptoms, too.

My concussion happened at practice after school one day. We were just getting done with a light tackling drill, practicing tackling technique to supposedly wrap up our opponents and take them to the ground rather than just drill them. The group of defensive backs I was in was ready to take a water break, but one of my teammates asked to do one more tackle — I was to be the dummy. I was unprepared for the severity of the hit — perhaps I underestimated my teammate, and before I knew what happened, I was taken down and the back of my head hit the ground hard.

I imagine there were a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” after the hit, but I have no idea because I blacked out for a few seconds. When I came to, I was surrounded by my teammates. A friend jokingly administered a test to see if I was OK. He raised one finger and asked to say how many I saw. I was seeing double but I had the presence of mind to realize that because there were two of him, there must also have been two fingers, so I said one.

That was it. That was the extent of my concussion test.

I spent the rest of practice that I can recall in a dizzy haze. I remember being very confused at where I was supposed to be, and when special teams were supposed to practice, I couldn’t remember that I was on special teams, let alone what special teams even were. The majority of practice was blacked out from memory, and I don’t remember how I got home, so it has always astounded me how no one knew I had a concussion or that they chose to ignore it.

The fact is that the culture of football, in the low levels, at least, has not yet developed beyond that “shake it off” mentality. Until that culture changes, no amount of research will be able to stem the tide of head injuries in sports.

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